By Ryan Kost
The Associated Press
SALEM — After months of dealmaking, lawmakers have unanimously approved a $300 million-per-year transportation package funded through increases in the gas tax and registration, title and license plate fees.
Legislators estimate the increased fees will mean the typical Oregon household pays an additional $121.50 a year, or about $10 a month.
In return, lawmakers said Oregonians will get the largest investment in the state's aging transportation infrastructure ever. It is expected to sustain 4,600 jobs each year, or about 40,000 total over the next decade.
"The costs for the public are not that big," said state Rep. Terry Beyer, a Springfield Democrat and one of the plan's chief architects. But "the benefits for the public are immense."
Under the plan approved by a joint transportation committee Friday, registration fees will increase $16 per year.
Title fees will increase $22, the gas tax will increase by 6 cents a gallon and drivers will pay a $10 surcharge for each license plate they buy. The gas tax portion won't kick in until the state posts two consecutive quarters of growth or the year 2011.
All told, those increases will bring in $300 million worth of new revenues each year, which will be split among the state, counties and cities.
Counties will get just under $82 million and cities just under $55 million of that. They'll have discretion on how to use the money, though it will all go back into transportation in some form or another.
The state will take the remaining money, which it will use for road maintenance and preservation and bonding to help pay for 37 large, longer-term projects.
Those projects, outlined in the bill, include the Newberg-Dundee bypass, improvements to Highway 43 at the Sellwood Bridge in Portland and improvements to Highway 62 in Southern Oregon.
"These jobs are also going to show up in some of the hardest-hit parts of Oregon," said Senate President Peter Courtney at a press conference before the vote. "We're just moments away from a remarkable time in which we will define ourselves as a state legislature."
Indeed, the package represents an even greater investment in infrastructure than a $2.5 billion program the 2003 Legislature approved mostly to replace or repair cracking bridges. What's more, the bill won support from every Republican on the joint transportation committee.
"The votes are there," Courtney said. "It will not be close."
That's no small thing these days. Republicans have taken a hard line on most tax and fee increases throughout the session, saying a recession is no time to ask Oregonians for more. But at the press conference three Republicans joined Democrats in pitching the package.
"This is a transportation package that doesn't grow government," said Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro. "These are tax increases that don't grow government. These are tax increases that grow the economy."
The support doesn't stop there. Before the committee voted on the measure, representatives from AAA, the Oregon Trucking Association, the Port of Portland and even the Oregon Petroleum Association spoke in favor.
"This is about jobs in Oregon," said Annette Price, with the Port.
Added petroleum lobbyist Paul Romain, "We are completely satisfied with what you did with this bill."
That last vote of confidence may have been, in part, due to a provision that puts a 4-year moratorium on local gas tax increases.
Indeed, Beyer said, "sometimes to get something, you have to give something." Cities and counties, she said, are getting a good "chunk of change" out of this deal.
The local gas taxes that 21 cities and counties now impose wouldn't be affected.
Still, even with all this support, the bill has some detractors.
Environmentalists are disappointed legislators didn't include more money for bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Lawmakers, however, pointed to increased funding for transit and a new Urban Trails Funds as 'green' additions.
It also seems that Republican support for the bill might end at those inside the Capitol.
Bob Tiernan, chairman of the state's Republican Party, released a statement earlier in the week criticizing the package and his positioned hadn't softened Friday.
"The Republican Party will take a real, hard look at it, but I think the bottom line is it sounds like a mistake to me," he said after the committee vote. "I think it's inappropriate. It's the wrong time to raise any taxes."
Lawmakers to move $300 million transportation package
By Ryan Kost