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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. Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Marty Moyer, left, wants her friend Jody Wiser and residents of Washington County to pay a $30 Vehicle Registration Fee for road maintenance, a fee Wiser does not support.

“We’re 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. “We’re there for each other if we just want to come over and talk.”

The News-Times sat down with the political “frenemies” in Wiser’s 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 it’s very appropriate. We haven’t been able to keep up with the funding. The gas tax is declining. It’s no longer fair. We need a new funding model that’s 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. It’s important to the economy. We’ve 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.Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Residents of Washington County will vote Nov. 4 on whether to pay a $30 Vehicle Registration Fee for road maintenance.

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 driveway’s fine, but when I have to go over the speed bumps and potholes in Portland …

Marty: Maybe you shouldn’t drive so fast.

Jody: I don’t know if Washington County has it right that they need $12.8 million a year, but it hasn’t been justified in the Voters' Pamphlet. They say they’ve got a $10 million gap now and over the next 10 years they’ll 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. There’s no doubt that that’s an issue.

And there’s no doubt in my mind that maintenance is way better than total repair. I don’t have any argument with any of that. Obviously, Portland’s 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. It’s 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, it’s $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, I’m very much blessed by our stupid property tax system.

So, we start out with fact that the specific need for (the VRF) isn’t well-justified. It makes a good story, but the numbers don’t make sense.

Marty: Well, I disagree with that. I think it is justified.

Jody: Where are the numbers? Why isn’t it in the Voters' Pamphlet for me to see? It says there’s a current $10.5 million backlog (of maintenance) and another $10.5 million backlog that will be occurring over the next 10 years. So that’s $21 million. But this is expected to collect $12.8 million a year. It’s a $128 million solution to a $21 million problem.

Marty: The backlog that they’re 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. There’s nothing in here about need. So, I don’t 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 don’t want to be in a meeting where I say, “OK, we have to let the pavement deteriorate. That’s just not acceptable. It’s a safety issue.”

Q: Do you think a lot of people don’t know about this issue?

Marty: I’m sure. And with many people, anything that’s going to cost them more money, as when we’ve tried to enact a sales tax in this state, they’re against it.

Jody: I don’t know when the laws changed, but Multnomah County has a 3 cent per gallon gas tax and Washington County has 1 cent and we’re the only one (that low)...Tigard’s is 3 cents, Milwaukie’s is 2 cents and the highest is 5 cents in Eugene.

Jody: In Oregon, it’s 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 we’ve 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 it’s 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 don’t want to do that, because it’s going to cost more. That doesn’t make sense to me, economically.

Jody: If we do pass this, we’re 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 we’ll be paying. Washington County needs to wait.


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