Unhappy about vehicle registration fee? Blame the feds
Drivers throughout Washington County — and, to a lesser degree, throughout the state, are about to be hit by sticker shock. That's because vehicle registration fees for the county and the state are about to go up abruptly.
The county has introduced a new fee of $30 annually — that's $60 every two years, because we register our vehicles in Oregon on a two-year cycle. This is a new fee, although the County Commission OK'd it a couple of years ago but delayed its implementation.
Meanwhile the state's two-year registration fee rises from $86 to $112 every other year.
So in real terms, the owner of a car or truck in Washington County will see registration fees jump from $86 to a combined $172.
Why are we being hit with this whopping increase? Two reasons:
Because traffic and transportation are near the top of everyone's list of problems to solve. And because the federal government has stopped paying for transportation fixes.
For decades, that wasn't the case. The federal government, through the federal gas tax, pumped money into roads, streets, highways, bridges, overpasses, ramps and more. It was a given, at least since the Eisenhower administration, that a well-maintained interstate transportation system was of critical value to the nation. And as such, deserving of federal funding.
But that all changed in 1993. That was the last year that a single penny got added to the Highway Trust Fund. That fund receives money from a federal fuel tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel.
A quarter century later, those gas taxes haven't budged.
It has become a partisan issue, with Republicans, year after year, beating back efforts to re-invest in the trust fund. That's odd, given that Ronald Reagan increased the fund during his tenure, saying, "We simply cannot allow this magnificent system to deteriorate beyond repair."
Thanks to inflation, $1 spent on roads in 1993 equals about 58 cents today. The buying power of the trust fund has been whittled almost in half.
In 1993, the United States had an estimated 198 million cars on the road. By 2016, that number had
spiked to almost 269 million.
And as our streets and roads and highways have slowly deteriorated, cities, counties and states have been forced to step up.
Hence the increase in the state registration fee, and the creation of the county registration fee.
We've already begun to hear the howls of taxpayers and vehicle owners, griping that the increase is too much. And it is significant. But that's a direct result of the feds abrogating their responsibility.
Year after year, we hear that the federal trust fund is about to go broke. Year after year, Congress sloshes some money into the fund to keep it solvent; at least for short periods of time.
As a direct response, the Oregon Legislature in 2017 put together a bipartisan, $5.3 billion package of transportation projects, stretched over a 10-year period and paid for through increases in the gas tax, registration fees and new taxes on payroll, new vehicle purchases and bicycles priced more than $200. It came as good news to Washington County residents who, for years, have complained about traffic problems. The 2017 bill includes $22 million for design work on The Newberg-Dundee Bypass and Highway 99W; $44 million for Highway 217 southbound through Beaverton; and $54 million for Highway 217 northbound in the same area. Cities also will share in the largess from the Legislature: Beaverton gets $2.4 million; Tigard gets $1.3 million; and Tualatin gets $678,000.
Washington County will net $13 million.
Note: The county's new vehicle registration fee will generate an estimated $8 million for the county and an additional $5.4 million to be shared by the cities within the county.
Increases in gas tax, in payroll taxes and in registration fees hit all drivers hard. No question.
But the increases are in direct response to the lack of federal action for a quarter century.
Americans love their cars and they love driving. But Congress has abjectly failed to maintain transportation funding since 1993, when one of the Billboard Hot 100 Singles for the year was Meatloaf's, "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)."