Fast 'frenemies' debate merits of road measure
Proposed vehicle registration fee prompts opposite opinions
At a June 17 public hearing of the Washington County Board of Commissioners in Hillsboro, two women approached the panel to offer their input on the proposed Vehicle Registration Fee.
Were very good friends, said Jody Wiser, gesturing to her table companion, Marty Moyer. But we have different views on this issue.
In her easy-care pixie cut and clear, commanding voice, Wiser of Tax Fairness Oregon knows the drill and delivers a quick-hit argument against the fee, which supporters say would pay for necessary road maintenance.
Moyer, who projects the spark of an activist in a well-mannered, sophisticated package, argued in favor of the fee. Moyer is retired from a longtime position with an oil company and currently serves as vice president of the Urban Road Maintenance Advisory Committee, among other volunteer roles in the county.
Each of them hails from California, but has lived in Washington County for ages, says Wiser Moyer for 17 years and Wiser for 40.
They now live close enough to each other in the Bethany area northeast of Hillsboro that they can pop over to Bethany Public House for lunch.
We see each other at least once a month, said Wiser. Were there for each other if we just want to come over and talk.
The News-Times sat down with the political frenemies in Wisers modern-style home, in a light-dappled living room surrounded by trees.
Their coffee-fueled debate targeted Measure 34-221, which would enact a $30 registration fee for personal vehicles if approved by voters on Nov. 4. The fee would generate about $12.8 million per year and would be used exclusively for roads.
Q: First of all, do each of you believe road improvements are needed and if so, to what degree? Is the amount of funding Washington County is proposing appropriate?
Marty: I think its very appropriate. We havent been able to keep up with the funding. The gas tax is declining. Its no longer fair. We need a new funding model thats stable, secure, easy to administer and stays locally.
This is a Washington County issue and our citizens have said that having their roads properly maintained is important. Its important to the economy. Weve got to move goods to market. People have to get to school, to work, go shopping. If the roads are poorly maintained, it costs an auto owner probably $175 more to maintain his car.
Q: Where did that number come from?
Marty: My head. (laughter at the made-up number)
Jody: I have to get my alignment adjusted. My driveways fine, but when I have to go over the speed bumps and potholes in Portland
Marty: Maybe you shouldnt drive so fast.
Jody: I dont know if Washington County has it right that they need $12.8 million a year, but it hasnt been justified in the Voters' Pamphlet. They say theyve got a $10 million gap now and over the next 10 years theyll have another $12 million gap. But this is a $128 million fix over the next 10 years. That might not be the right amount.
Q: What about the public testimony at the June 17 Board of Commissioners hearing on this issue?
Jody: It is absolutely true that the gas tax per mile driven and the amount available for our roads is going down because the cars are more efficient. We love that our cars are more efficient, because of world climate change and all that. Theres no doubt that thats an issue.
And theres no doubt in my mind that maintenance is way better than total repair. I dont have any argument with any of that. Obviously, Portlands in much worse shape than we are. All you have to do is drive on their roads instead of ours.
Washington County has a 1-cent gas tax, which is low, and out here in Bethany we also have a road maintenance district.
Marty: Urban Unincorporated Washington County. Its on our property tax bill and it pays for maintaining our roads the slurry seal, the chip seal
Q: And how much is that per $1,000 of value?
Jody: Until we had (the maintenance district), the streets were maintained by the neighbors. For me, its $71.25 on my tax bill. My assessed value for last year was $290,000. My real market value is $811,000. I told you, Im very much blessed by our stupid property tax system.
So, we start out with fact that the specific need for (the VRF) isnt well-justified. It makes a good story, but the numbers dont make sense.
Marty: Well, I disagree with that. I think it is justified.
Jody: Where are the numbers? Why isnt it in the Voters' Pamphlet for me to see? It says theres a current $10.5 million backlog (of maintenance) and another $10.5 million backlog that will be occurring over the next 10 years. So thats $21 million. But this is expected to collect $12.8 million a year. Its a $128 million solution to a $21 million problem.
Marty: The backlog that theyre giving you is on Washington County-maintained roads. This Vehicle Registration Fee will go 60 percent to Washington County and 40 percent to the cities in Washington County.
Jody: And the cities did not even bother to come up with what their need was. Theres nothing in here about need. So, I dont have any reason to believe they have a need without the figures. Also, if this is such a big problem, why have the commissioners avoided doing something about it seriously?
Q: Could you weigh in on some of the other options put forth to raise the road money and did any of them sound viable?
Marty: By law, they could have assessed a fee of as much as $43 per vehicle, but they elected not to do that. This was basically the only one that was tossed around. The Urban Road Maintenance Committee said, Charge the full fee. The costs of maintaining our roads keeps going up and the gas tax goes down and I dont want to be in a meeting where I say, OK, we have to let the pavement deteriorate. Thats just not acceptable. Its a safety issue.
Q: Do you think a lot of people dont know about this issue?
Marty: Im sure. And with many people, anything thats going to cost them more money, as when weve tried to enact a sales tax in this state, theyre against it.
Jody: I dont know when the laws changed, but Multnomah County has a 3 cent per gallon gas tax and Washington County has 1 cent and were the only one (that low)...Tigards is 3 cents, Milwaukies is 2 cents and the highest is 5 cents in Eugene.
Jody: In Oregon, its 30 cents on vehicle fuel. Washington County probably could have raised the gas tax. But I think the Vehicle Registration Fee is, in some ways, fairer.
Marty: This is simple to administer, because DMV will administer it for us.
Jody: It would be simpler to raise the gas tax, because we already collect it. When I was at one of those hearings and I said, The state could just raise the gas tax, one of the officials said, Well, the state will never do that. When was the last time they did it? and it was in 2011.
Q: What are your thoughts about the $30 proposed fee as opposed to the $43 supported by many area businesses?
Marty: I would have gone for the full fee, but this is the first time weve done this and I understand why the commissioners were reluctant to go for the full amount, in order to get it passed.
Q: How equitable is this fee?
Marty: I feel its more equitable than increasing the gas tax.
Jody: I agree because it hits the Prius person just as much as the person with the old beater.
Marty: Or the Tesla, which uses no gas.
Q: If you were able to speak to a voter who knows nothing about this issue, what would you say in your elevator speech?
Marty: If this does not pass, the quality of our road surfaces is going to decline. I dont want to do that, because its going to cost more. That doesnt make sense to me, economically.
Jody: If we do pass this, were going to be paying more money to the county and to the state (which she says is likely to pass a gas tax this year). The problem is not as big as the amount of money well be paying. Washington County needs to wait.JW_DISQUS_ADD_A_COMMENT