FONT & AUDIO
Lawmakers could vote today on smaller transportation funding bill
SALEM — A legislative committee could vote as soon as today, July 1, on a dramatically diminished statewide transportation funding bill.
Legislative lawyers released a 295-page amendment to the bill late Friday. The proposal raises $5.3 billion over a seven-year period through increases in the gas tax, registration fees and new taxes on payroll, new vehicle purchases and bicycles priced more than $200. However, the new plan excludes several congestion-busting projects in the Portland area that would have been funded through a state-local match.
The plan hikes the state's existing 30-cent gas tax gradually over a seven-year period to a total of 40 cents. Meanwhile, the plan increases registration fees by $13 and title fees by $16 in 2018. Beginning in 2020, the state would move toward a tiered system of registration and title fees based on a vehicle's gas mileage.
The gas tax hike and registration fees will fund about $10 million per year in Safe Routes to Schools sidewalk improvements and to partially fund a congestion-relieving project on Interstate 5 in the Rose Quarter. The rest of the money will be distributed to the state, counties and cities for road and bridge maintenance and improvements.
The original $8.2 billion funding proposal would have funded projects to widen Interstate 205 from Stafford Road to Oregon City and to replace the Abernathy Bridge on I-205 between Oregon City and West Linn. The bill also would have raised the gas tax even more in the Portland area to raise funds for the metro congestion projects.
Instead, the proposal directs the Oregon Transportation Commission to establish a tolling program on I-205 and I-5. The program would be used to fund congestion-busting projects on Interstate 205 and Interstate 5 from the Washington state line to where the two interstates cross south of Portland.
Authors of the transportation package, legislative leaders and Gov. Kate Brown negotiated an agreement between Democrats and Republicans to trim the size of the package and to place a cost cap on the state's low carbon fuels standard. The deal was intended to win enough votes to reach the constitutionally required three-fifths majority in each chamber for raising taxes.
The deal included reducing the gas tax increase and an excise tax on the sale of new vehicles, from 1 percent to 0.5 percent. About $12 million of the revenue from the proceeds of the vehicle excise tax would be used for rebates on the purchase of electric vehicles.
A $15 flat fee would be charged on the purchase of new adult bicycles with a price tag of more than $200. The proceeds would go toward paying for commuter bicycle and pedestrian paths.
Under the pending proposal, the first 4-cent gas tax increase would trigger in 2018, with subsequent 2-cent hikes every other year.
A payroll tax of less than 0.1 percent would raise money to fund public transit.
A sticking point in negotiations was Republicans' request for changes to state's low-carbon fuels standard, which calls for greenhouse gas emission reductions by 2025. In the agreement, the GOP won a cost cap of $200 per subsidy for efforts such as alternative fuel production and electric vehicles, a concession Republicans wanted to control the cost of the program. The deal also allows temporary suspension of parts of the program when there are fuel shortages.
Brad Reed, spokesman for Renew Oregon, has said the compromise "will protect the core integrity of the program" and give clean fuels businesses enough certainty to allow them to invest in Oregon.
The original bill called for an innovative funding mechanism for the I-205 and Rose Quarter projects in which the state and the City of Portland would share the cost of the projects. "Going Dutch" would have required an additional increase in gas taxes only in the Portland area, which the fuels association strongly opposed, said Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, one of the architects of the transportation package. Some environmental groups also opposed the congestion-relieving projects as they prefer to take more vehicles off the road than to increase freeway vehicle capacity.