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Sources Say: It isn't hard to figure why street fee isn't on ballot

Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick usually waffle when asked why they won’t put their proposed street fee on the ballot, saying they were elected to make tough decisions. Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) was more blunt when talking about state transportation funding measures at last week’s Business Leadership Summit in Portland.

“Voters always vote them down. That’s why we don’t put them on the ballot,” Courtney told the business and government leaders gathered at the Oregon Convention Center.

According to Courtney, state voters have rejected more than a dozen measures to increase gasoline taxes and motor-vehicle registration fees over the year. Because of that, lawmakers who support increased transportation funding seek backing from groups like the Oregon Business Council, which sponsored the summit, and make sure the bills to increase the taxes and fees are bipartisan to deflect criticism.

“We need your help,” Courtney told the crowd, saying he was committed to trying to push another transportation funding package through the 2015 Oregon Legislature.

Don’t look at me

Local economic consultant Robert McCullough has received a lot of attention for his criticisms of the nonresidential portion of the proposed street fee — so much, in fact, that people are urging him to run for the City Council in postings after online news stories about the fee hearings.

McCullough is discouraging the speculation, however. “One City Council member from Eastmoreland sacrificing his annual salary for public service is probably enough,” says McCullough referring to Mayor Charlie Hales.

McCullough is chairman of the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association and president of the Southeast Uplift neighborhood coalition board. It obtained internal Portland Bureau of Transportation speadsheets for the nonresidential fee calculations, which McCullough then analyzed.

In a report presented to the City Council at its Jan. 8 street fee hearing, McCullough says the spreadsheets are riddled with errors that overcharge small businesses while large transportation companies pay less than their fair share. Commissioner Steve Novick promised to review PBOT’s work.

SEUL obtained the spreadsheets through a public records lawsuit. It is appealing the $2,5623.32 the city is charging to process them for release. “We’re fascinated by the 32 cents,” McCullough says.

Merkley won one, but unlikely to repeat

Sources was wrong when it reported that Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley failed to persuade his colleagues to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which he sponsored to prevent LGBT Americans from being fired simply for who they are.

The U.S. Senate approved the anti-discrimination bill by a margin of 64-to-32 votes on Nov. 7, 2013, the first time it passed since being introduced in 1994.

But the larger point of the item also was true.

The Republican-dominated U.S. House failed to take up the measure, and Merkley is going to have a harder time getting the U.S. Senate to pass anything like it again now that Republicans are in control there and he’s in the minority.