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Fees to fix bridge aren't quite fair

Our Opinion

We understand the urgent need to replace the aging and unsafe Sellwood Bridge.

But the $19 annual vehicle registration fee recently adopted by Multnomah County violates some basic principles of tax fairness. While the fee will be assessed countywide, the primary beneficiaries of the tax to help pay for a new bridge will be those motorists who cross the Sellwood Bridge on a regular basis.

We wouldn't object to such a fee if its proceeds could help fund projects throughout the county. Nor would such a fee be out of place if it could be assessed based on proximity to the bridge.

But neither of those possibilities is permitted under state law. This means that residents of Northwest Portland, Gresham and North Portland, for example, will be assessed a direct fee for the next 20 years that will be used solely to replace a bridge that they may rarely use.

The same scenario exists in Clackamas County, where commissioners are considering implementing a $5 to $8 vehicle registration fee to help pay for a new bridge.

No one disputes the need to replace this structurally deficient bridge.

The more difficult questions are: Who should pay? And should how much they pay be based upon the benefits they receive?

In Clackamas County's case, some may take comfort that the state legislation permitting these fees only requires their focus to be on the Sellwood Bridge through 2013. But in reality, it will take 20 years or more to raise local funds needed for a new bridge, so don't expect communities some distance away from Sellwood Bridge to see any new transportation funding from these fees for a long time.