Mac taking right tack to finance street needs
Thanks to growth in population and commerce, more vehicles are putting more miles on our highway system every year, producing wear and tear at an ever-increasing clip.
For many years, the price of road-building materials and labor has been outstripping inflation, so keeping abreast of needs has become increasingly costly.
Meanwhile, we have been introducing more alternatively powered and higher mileage vehicles. Oregon did manage to enact a 6-cent-per-gallon increase in 2009, but much of that anticipated revenue increase was lost to declines in gasoline purchases.
The squeeze hits our federal system with its long-static gas tax, a topic raised this week when two U.S. senators proposed a major federal gas tax increase. Revenue shortfalls affect Oregon state, county and city systems that rely significantly on gas tax revenue.
No elected official relishes asking the taxpayer to pony up. But the solution doesn’t lie in telling instead of asking — an approach some politicians are trying in Portland and Hillsboro. It lies in asking directly, openly and forthrightly — the approach McMinnville’s civic leaders are taking as they prepare for a November bond election.
In Portland, Commissioners Charlie Hales and Steve Novick are attempting to slap a street fee on every homeowner, renter and merchant in the city, by simple majority vote of the council. If they can’t come up with a third supporter, they are proposing to soften the way with a charter amendment assuring constituents a “majority” of fee money would be spent on street maintenance and safety.
That begs the question, what about the rest? In Portland, you never know. It could end up funding unicycles, monorails or submarines.
As The Oregonian noted in a critical editorial, Eugene considered a street fee about 10 years ago, but instead put a bond issue on the ballot. The city was rewarded with a vote of confidence.
In Washington County, Commission Chair Andy Duyck barely managed to sidetrack a move by colleagues to impose a new county registration fee of $30 for cars and $17 for motorcycles sans voter approval. The thinking in both cases seemed to be: Consulting the electorate is risky; if the answer is no, where would that leave us?
In McMinnville, the City Council four years ago hired a consultant and created an advisory committee to begin identifying and prioritizing needs. This week, that committee compiled about $23 million in pressing projects, large and small, and discussed possibilities of a 15-year bond proposal at an estimated cost between 80 and 90 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
McMinnville is considering a mix of new signals, turn lanes and pavement widths on stretches that include Second from Adams to Cowls; Fifth from Adams to Lafayette; Old Sheridan Road from 99W to Cypress; Hill from Second to Baker Creek; and Alpine from Fifth to 14th. Other projects will include needed sidewalk and street preservation work.
Other high-cost, long-term transportation needs will return to the table in later years. Meanwhile, the plan balances immediate needs with an affordable financial package.
And, as it should be, only if the voters are willing.