ELECTION 2016: Portland, Ore., voters to decide Tuesday on gas tax increase

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 5/16/2016

Voters in the city of Portland, Ore., will decide on Tuesday, May 17, whether to impose a 10-cent-per-gallon tax on local gasoline sales. If approved, the city would claim the highest gas rate in the state. The vote follows a city council decision a week ago to impose a new tax on trucks.

The nearly 3 percent local heavy vehicle use tax is a companion to the gas tax ballot measure. The taxes collected on cars and trucks would help the city address a road repair backlog that has been estimated at between $100 million and $200 million over the next decade.

A 10-cent gas tax rate increase would raise an estimated $16 million annually. The tax would be collected locally for four years.

The additional revenue from the city-level tax, however, would not be used solely for road projects. About 56 percent, or $9 million, would be applied to pavement work. The other 44 percent, or $7 million, would pay for projects that include bike lanes, sidewalks and crosswalks.

Opponents say the city needs to make sure all existing revenues are being used appropriately before enacting new revenue measures. Another complaint is that Ballot Measure 26-173 does not put enough money into roads.

Supporters say putting money into pedestrian improvements could have a higher economic return for the city than pavement maintenance. They cite the city’s use of biking, walking and public transit as delivering economic returns.

The truck tax is a companion of the gas tax effort. Businesses paying the Oregon weight-mile tax will be subject to the city’s new heavy-vehicle use tax for the next four years.

According to estimates, the 2.8 percent truck tax rate will raise $2.5 million each year. Revenue will be used for street work and safety projects.

The truck tax is scheduled to take effect this September.

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