Lawmakers suggest paying for the large increase with toll roads and bicycle taxes, among other options
SALEM — The Oregon Department of Transportation and the state’s cities and counties estimate they need an extra $1.3 billion a year to preserve roads and bridges, ease congestion and bolster public transportation, according to an analysis state lawmakers released Wednesday.
Additionally, Oregon’s cities estimate they would need $3.7 billion to deal with their backlog in road and other transportation work.
Those figures would represent big increases compared with what ODOT and all of the state’s cities and counties, combined, spend on their transportation maintenance and upgrades now: about $2 billion a year.
The $1.3 billion per year boost would represent a 65 percent increase.
The legislative analysis includes ways lawmakers could raise money for transportation.
Along with the usual suspects — higher gas taxes and vehicle registration fees, plus studded tire fees — the list includes ideas new for Oregon: toll roads, registration fees for electric vehicles, higher regional gas taxes, local registration fees, taxes on bicycles, a per-mile road user fee, a statewide property tax or even a carbon tax.
The list also asks whether transportation should be funded from the state’s general and lottery funds or through the state’s tax on alcohol, tobacco or marijuana. None of those sources is now used to pay for roads and bridges.
There has been no public discussion yet about what magnitude of tax or fee hikes would be needed to provide the requested amout.
At the local level in Oregon, some communities have been cold to the idea of raising local taxes to pay for road work that local officials argue is needed.
In Lane County, voters in Springfield, Cottage Grove and Coburg in November all rejected higher gas taxes to pay for street repairs.
Recent attempts by Lane and Washington county governments to pass local vehicle registration fees to pay for road work failed as well.
Conversely, Eugene voters twice have approved multimillion-dollar, five-year bond measures to pay for local street repairs. The latest bond expires in 2018.
Portland voters, meanwhile, last May gave the green light to a 10-cents-per-gallon gas tax hike effective Jan. 1.
The legislative report, released on the first day of the legislative session, comes as state lawmakers strategize to pass a substantial transportation funding package this year, after failing to do so in 2015.
The numbers in the analysis are a starting point for negotiations, said Sen. Lee Beyer, a Springfield Democrat and leading voice on the transportation package.
Lawmakers are unlikely to be willing to raise taxes and fees by that much, he added. But the large figure points to Oregon’s major pent-up need for more spending on transportation infrastructure, Beyer said.
“This is the opinion of professionals of what we should be spending on roads and bridges,” Beyer said. “It’s not what we’re going to do.”
Lawmakers haven’t yet provided much indication of how big a transportation package they’d like to see. In 2015, legislators weighed a new package worth $350 million, coming from increased gas taxes and vehicle fees, but they’ve suggested this year’s package will be bigger.
Beyer said Wednesday he would like to see a legislator-endorsed package unveiled in March.
Craig Honeyman, a lobbyist for the League of Oregon Cities, said he understood lawmakers most likely would be unwilling to fund the cities’ $3.7 billion backlog of wished-for projects in 2017.
“Cities understand that this won’t all happen in one package,” he said. “These numbers are too fantastic.”
But after voters in nine Oregon cities all rejected attempts to raise local gas taxes for transportation funds on the November 2016 ballot, Honeyman said local governments want state help.
“We’re getting to the point where we’re losing completely roads due to a lack of maintenance,” he said.
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