In a sweeping proposal intended to create jobs, inject life into the state’s economy, repair infrastructure, and bring Oregon’s transportation network into the 21st century, Governor Ted Kulongoski unveiled more than $1 billion in road, rail, bridge, mass transit and port funding yesterday.
The new transportation investments would be paid for with a myriad of tax and fee hikes, including:
- a 2-cent per gallon gas tax increase
- doubling the vehicle titling fee to $110
- raising the vehicle registration fee from $27 per year to $81 per year
- creating a first-time fee of $100 for titling cars new to the state
- raising the tobacco tax by 2½ cents
The plan also calls for borrowing $600 million and using and additional $16 million in lottery money.
Kulongoski said that that it would create 2,100 jobs annually for the first five years and raise $500 million per year. The package immediately drew intense scrutiny from anti-tax advocates and, if approved by the state legislature, would be the state’s largest-ever transportation improvement effort.
Yet, it may not be that Kulongoski, a Democrat, has much to worry about in the way of oppostion. After last week’s election, Oregon Democrats have increased their majority in the state house and obtained a supermajority in the state senate. Rather smartly, he’s put this proposal out there at a time when the Republican party seems to have become an afterthought in Oregon politics.
Regardless of politics, the AAA of Oregon thinks that most of the tax and fee increases will sit fine with Oregon’s citizens, saying, “Certainly, a 2-cent gas-tax increase should be palatable to most people.” And if it creates jobs and boosts Oregon’s economy, even the typically anti-tax, conservative business owners will be forced to get in line.
As an Oregon resident for most of the last decade, I say it’s about damn time. I drive the highways on a daily basis and have always thought the condition of Oregon’s roads, bridges and rails is embarrassing.
I mean, we still have trains that cut off traffic on major roads in major cities at rush hour; we don’t do emissions testing except in one metro area (Portland); our highways are slowly, but surely, turning into the next California-style traffic mess; and, we have only a few bridges that cross the Willamette River over a nearly 150-mile stretch (where most of the people in Oregon live).
Plus, most of Interstate-5 (THE ONLY major north-south highway in Oregon) has a huge median strip which currently just takes up space, but could be used for a high-speed commuter train. What daily commuter wouldn’t jump at the chance to give up their stressful car ride and sit on a train listening to music and surfing the internet?
If this plan gets passed, I hope that a high speed commuter line is at the top of their agenda, along with developing a network of charging stations for electric cars, drastically improving mass transit options statewide, and fixing our bridge situation. If we ever hope to compete in a world in which India and China are dominant, we need these types of improvements now.
As Governor Kulongoski said, “Investing in transportation in tough times sets us up for success in good times.” Although I don’t always agree with him, those are wiser words than I’ve heard spoken in Oregon politics in a long time.