Thank you, Salem, for derailing Portland's street-fee advisory vote: Editorial … – OregonLive.com
The council should dedicate a hefty chunk of the surplus to street repair. That would signal Portland’s leaders strive to live within means.
It’s rare that lawmakers in Salem deliver good news to Portland before they’ve done anything. But that’s what happened late last week, when state leaders persuaded Mayor Charlie Hales to derail the city’s plan to poll citizens on what they thought of several funding options to help underwrite local road repairs.
It turns out the Legislature will undertake a major transportation package this year that would require a bump upward in the state’s gasoline tax – an effort that could compete with Portland’s plans but which could furnish more street-repair money to Portland. While getting Portland to temporarily stand down would simplify things in the statehouse, the real winner is the city that has made street maintenance funding an operatic tragicomedy.
Hales, who along with Commissioner Steve Novick has played a leading role, chose another metaphor. He told The Oregonian’s Brad Schmidt that all the slipping and sliding by the City Council on the street fee has been worth it and, by inference, the hard but necessary part of government: “If people want to watch the sausage being made, they will perhaps be amused, perhaps be appalled, perhaps be engaged. But one way or another, we’ve got to actually make the sausage and solve the problem…. I think that the fact that we’ve had this big loud debate in Portland has helped elevate the debate statewide.”
Okayyyyyy. Everybody gets to stand down. But no one needs it more now than the Portland voter, subjected to a year of whiplash by a City Council whose first reflex in the face of need was to turn to residents and businesses and say: More money, please. The street repair money would come from a tax, a fee, a bond – whatever – but it would be raised as new revenue rather than carved from existing resources. Yet the city, as Schmidt separately showed in a report last weekend, had for years dodged its own responsibility to adequately maintain its streets, engaging in a form of neglect that multiplies the cost of repair. When you get around to it, that is.
There’s a second bit of good news beyond the slowdown, however. The city enters budget-making season with a forecast of extra money: more than $14 million in one-time funds and more than $4 million in ongoing revenue. This presents a real opportunity for street fee sausage-making to become palatable: The City Council should dedicate a hefty chunk of the surplus to street repair. Doing so would signal residents and businesses that Portland’s elected leaders strive to live within the city’s means, helping to restore trust. Doing so would be taken as a good-faith action remembered by taxpayers who surely will be asked to close the gap between available resources, potentially newfound state gas-tax money and the full price of street repair.
As for an advisory vote, Hales got this one right: It’s unnecessary. By summer, when the Legislature’s out, Portlanders will know how much of the burden of street repair might reasonably fall to them and be able to judge whether the council’s next best approach seems fair.