Maintaining Portland’s Streets: Funding Options

So having reviewed the challenge of the maintenance backlog for Portland’s street system and looked at some of the common questions around local transportation funding, now it’s time to look at the revenue options for dealing with it.

Here are few that are probably out of the question:

  • City registration fee (not legal in Oregon)
  • Tolls on City streets (don’t make sense, wildly unpopular)
  • Property taxes (would just cause ‘compression’ under Measures 5/50, resulting in no new revenue)

One that’s technically possible, but probably Sam will keep off the table, is a sales tax. A fraction of a cent sales tax has been adopted by lots of cities around the country to help with transportation. But those are all jurisdictions that already had a sales tax. Creating one, and the necessary collection systems, for the amounts we’re talking about would not make much sense. And as we know, Oregonians are downright phobic about sales taxes.

So what’s on the table? Probably one or more of these:

  • Local gas tax – several cities in the region already have them
  • Carbon tax (i.e. based on fuel efficiency for example)
  • Street maintenance fee – again several local cities have them
  • Parking tax – either on all commercial spaces or all paid spaces
  • A bond measure (i.e., capital bond, not subject to compression
  • A payroll or employment tax – this is how TriMet is funded

If I were a betting person, I’d say a combination of a local gas tax and a Street Maintenance Fee is a good bet. A payroll tax might also be a possibility. Collection systems exist for all three of those. The rest may still be a bit ‘out there’ for our electorate.

But we’ll see what happens after the next round of polling. Tomorrow we’ll also look at survey results from the neighborhood meetings.

Watch this space to see how the conversation develops!

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