County, towns to benefit from transportation package
The Oregon Legislature passed a $5.3 billion statewide transportation package that is expected to bring more than $1 million to the Jefferson County per year for transportation projects.
The bipartisan yes votes exceeded the 36 that are constitutionally required to enact new taxes.
The House passed the bill by a 39-20 margin and the Senate approved it by a 22-7 vote.
However, lawmakers signaled concerns that the package could face a voter referral. In another bill, they added a provision to bump up any vote by the electorate on the transportation package to May instead of the general November election.
The 10-year plan includes hikes in the gas tax, registration and title fees and new taxes on payroll, new vehicle purchases and bicycles priced more than $200.
The package also calls for congestion-priced tolling at some of Portland's bottlenecks. The Oregon Transportation Commission is responsible for establishing the program, under the bill.
Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay, a chief architect of the plan, said the package is based on overwhelming feedback from Oregonians that they need congestion relief on Portland thoroughfares and more public transportation options.
"When cars and trucks grind to a standstill, products take longer to get to market, workers are less productive and quality of life is degraded. Today, we can take steps to help Oregon businesses get their goods to market while also improving quality of life," McKeown said.
Locally, the plan provides $797,000 for Jefferson County, $159,000 for Madras, $36,000 for Culver and $19,000 for Metolius. Plus, an additional $320,000 would be provided to the regional transit district, per Jefferson County's share.
A key project outlined for funding just south of the county — addressing improvements on U.S. Highway 97 in the Terrebonne area — is earmarked for $20 million.
Rep. Susan McLain, D-Forest Grove, said the plan maintains and modernizes roads and bridges and increases funding for seismic upgrades and repairs by 462 percent.
She said it will give the state a long-term and short-term economic boost, with 16,000 more short-term construction jobs.
Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, who voted "no" on the bill, said she opposed the launch of a tolling program on freeways, given that surveys show there is scarce support for that method of funding road projects.
"Maybe it's just deep in our DNA," Parrish said of respondents' dislike of tolls.
The plan hikes the state's existing 30-cent gas tax gradually over seven years to 40 cents. Registration fees would climb by $13 and title fees by $16 in 2018.
Beginning in 2020, the state would move toward a tiered system of registration and title fees based on a vehicle's gas mileage.
The plan also levies a 0.5 percent tax on the purchase of new vehicles. About $12 million of the revenue from the proceeds of the vehicle excise tax would be used for rebates on the purchase of electric vehicles.
A $15 flat fee would be charged on the purchase of new adult bicycles with a price tag of more than $200.
The proceeds of that would go toward paying for commuter bicycle and pedestrian paths.