Done deal: Oregon lawmakers approve $5.3 billion transportation plan

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 7/17/2017

Working for the past two years, Oregon state lawmakers have reached agreement on a transportation funding plan that will raise $5.3 billion over the next decade. Funding provisions to benefit major highway expansion and improvements to mass transit include new taxes and fees, including tolls.

Senate lawmakers voted 22-7 to send the bill to Gov. Kate Brown. The House approved the 167-page bill one day earlier on a 39-20 vote.

HB2017 includes a sales tax on new vehicle purchases, and higher vehicle title and registration fees.

A 10-cent increase in the state’s 30-cent fuel tax rate is also part of the plan. An initial 4-cent increase in 2018 would be followed by 2-cent increases every two years through 2024.

For professional drivers, proportionate increases will be applied to the weight-mile tax, trip permits, and variance permits.

The existing 16.38-cent per mile tax on large trucks will increase to 25.12 cents by Jan. 2024.

Fuel-efficient vehicles will also have higher fees to help compensate for generating less fuel-tax revenue.

Half of the fuel tax revenue would be allotted for state transportation work, 30 percent would be routed to counties and the rest would be sent to cities.

The tolling provision is billed as a solution to raise revenue and to discourage people from driving during rush hour in the Portland area. Specifically, tolls would be added on Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 between their interchange and the Washington border.

Tolls, however, are not a done deal. The Oregon Transportation Commission must receive approval from the Federal Highway Administration by Dec. 31, 2018, to collect the tolls.

Advocates say tolls would help cover costs for an estimated $1.1 billion in congestion and freight relief projects in the Portland area.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association believes when there is a valid need to generate additional revenue increasing fuel tax rates is the most equitable way to accomplish that goal. Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of government affairs, points out that any increase should be applied equally to both gasoline and diesel. He adds that safeguards are also necessary to keep the additional revenue for roads and bridges.

New taxes will also be added to employee paychecks statewide to benefit public transit in non-urban areas.

Electric vehicle rebates are also included in the funding bill. As soon as mid-October, a $2,500 rebate will be available for the purchase or lease of an all-electric vehicle. Plug-in hybrid rebates will be $1,500.

In addition, a flat $15 fee will be added to certain bicycle sales of at least $200. The revenue will be used to help cover the cost of the rebates, as well as pay for bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is also allowed to conduct a risk assessment before installing fences on overpasses. A 1993 law requires the agency to install fences on overpasses in an effort to prevent vandals from throwing objects onto traffic.

There remains a possibility that voters would make the final decision on any plan to raise taxes and collect tolls. Special interest groups have indicated they will pursue getting a question added to the May 2018 primary ballot.

Also of note is the signing into law of a separate bill to legalize harvesting roadkill for food.

Until now, Oregon has permitted only licensed fur-takers to keep game animals found as roadkill. The animals have been off limits for licensed hunters and the general public.

SB372 requires the state to adopt rules for the issuance of permits for salvaging deer or elk meat killed in vehicle collisions. The first permits must be issued by Jan. 1, 2019.

Washington State adopted a similar rule one year ago. The state issued 1,100 permits in the first six months.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Oregon, click here.

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