Legislators pursue changing appointment authority for ODOT director
SALEM – Legislators on a joint committee to craft a transportation package plan to propose shifting authority to appoint the director of the Oregon Department of Transportation from the governor to the Oregon Transportation Commission.
"If you are going to have entity with fiduciary responsibility, they need the ability to appoint the CEO," said Committee Co-Chairman Lee Beyer, D-Eugene.
Under the proposal, the five-member commission would appoint the director "in consultation with the governor."
The proposal is one part of a transportation package that would raise about $8 billion over the next 10 years to pay for projects to relieve congestion and maintain roads and bridges.
The 14-member committee met over the last two weeks to refine points they wanted to include in the legislation, which legislative counsel is in the process of drafting. Lawmakers emphasized that their agreement for the first draft of the legislation did not necessarily indicate their support for all of the provisions. Many of the finer points will be hashed out after the first draft is completed. Co-chairwoman Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay, estimated the first draft would be finished by May 31, with public hearings scheduled afterwards.
The money for the plan would come from a combination of hikes in the gas tax and registration and license fees, tolls and new taxes on payroll and purchases of new vehicles and bicycles. The legislation also would require a website where taxpayers could follow the progress and budgets of projects in their area and create an independent staff for the OTC, which sets policy for ODOT.
Tammy Baney, OTC chairwoman, earlier this year asked Gov. Kate Brown for a separate staff and for more involvement in the appointment of the ODOT director.
The plan identifies a few specific projects to ease congestion, but other projects would be prioritized by the Oregon Transportation Commission. Specific projects would:
• Add lanes on Interstate 5 near Portland's Rose Quarter from Interstate 84 to Interstate 405.
• Add northbound and southbound lanes on Highway 217 through the Portland metro area.
• Widen Interstate 205 to six lanes from Oregon City to Stafford Road.
• Widen and seismically reinforce Interstate 205's Abernethy Bridge.
The plan raises an average of about $800 million per year in additional transportation funding.
The money would come from increases in the gas tax and vehicle fees and a set of new taxes over the next 10 years, including:
• Gas tax increase from 30 cents to 44 cents.
• Tiered increase in title and registration fees, with higher increases for fuel-efficient vehicles, which pay less in gas taxes.
• Statewide payroll tax of one-tenth of 1 percent to pay for mass transit.
• Tolls to be determined.
• Bicycle excise tax of 5 percent.
• Dealer privilege tax of 1 percent on new vehicle purchases.
The state spends about $1.3 billion a year on transportation system maintenance and upgrades. This proposal would bring that amount up to about $2.1 billion.
The committee's co-chairs have estimated a vote on the package could happen as early as mid-June.