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Street fee off the table

No more discussions during 2015 Oregon Legislature

After nearly nine months of mounting controversy, Mayor Charlie Hales has called off any more deliberations on the proposed street fee while the 2015 Oregon Legislature works on a transportation package,

“Today, I am announcing a pause in our local efforts to fund our streets and safety projects within the City of Portland,” Hales said in a late Thursday press release. “Over the past week, I have had conversations with Speaker of the House Tina Kotek and with Gov. John Kitzhaber. They have each assured me that a statewide transportation package is a top priority for them this legislative session.”

Sandra McDonough, President and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance, praised the decision.

"We appreciate the city getting behind a statewide transportation package, which is one of our top priorities," says McDonough, whose organization had opposed a progressive personal income tax proposed by Hales and Novick as part of the fee.

The council had been preparing to meet Tuesday afternoon to discuss putting one or more advisory measures on the May 19 Special Election ballot. That meeting won't take place now, and no further discussions have been scheduled.

“We are pleased to know that the Legislature is very interested in a transportation funding discussion this year,” Commissioner Steve Novick, the other sponsor, said. “We have said all along that the street

fund we have proposed will not address all our needs, and that we are counting on the state and federal governments to step up.”

Ironically, Hales and Novick had argued that passing the street fee would put pressure on the 2015 Oregon Legislature to do more to fund transportation projects.

Hales said he also will enlist the aid of mayors throughout Oregon to push for more authority for cities.

“Together, we can represent the needs of cities, all of which will benefit from new options to fund infrastructure at a time when the existing options don’t satisfy our communities,” Hales said.

Hales left the door open for the council to take the issue up again after the legislative session that starts in earnest in February.

“The completion of this work comes when all three levels of government have acted; when Congress, the Legislature and the Portland City Council have all authorized new revenues to pay for streets and roads. This cooperation between the State of Oregon and local governments gives us, as Oregonians, the best way forward toward that objective.”

Hales also said the deadline for Portland to submit paperwork for the May election was 5 p.m. Thursday. County elections officials said the city had months to submit it, however.

Hales and Novick unveiled their street fee proposal in May 2014. It included a flat monthly fee on households and a fee on nonresidential properties bases on the number of motor vehicle trips they are estimated to generate. It was intended to raise around $50 million a year for maintenance and safety projects, after administrative expenses.

The proposal was widely attacked in a series of public forums. Hales and Novick appointed three work groups to come up with different ideas and proposed several different versions of both portions. They could not win the support of a third member of the council, however.