Ore. transportation bill calls for higher gas tax

SALEM — The Oregon House appears to be moving toward a vote on a transportation package that would increase state gas taxes by 6 cents a gallon to help pay for road, bridge and transit construction projects.

Motorists would also pay for the plan in other ways, according to The Oregonian newspaper, which obtained specifics of the bill that has largely been kept under wraps during negotiations. Vehicle registration, which is paid every two years, would rise to $86 instead of $54. Title fees would go up $23, to $78. Fees to replace lost license plates would more than triple — from $5 to $17.

The transportation-funding bill aims to ease traffic congestion while creating construction jobs in a state where the employment rate tops 12 percent. The Oregon Department of Transportation estimates the projects would provide nearly 40,000 jobs over 10 years.

"This is a bill that in our minds is our best opportunity to stimulate the job market," said Rep. Terry Beyer, D-Springfield, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee. She said the goal is to have the bill well on its way through the House by the end of next week.

Under the proposal, state gas taxes would go from 24 cents to 30 cents a gallon. That 25 percent increase would take place after two consecutive quarters of state employment growth or on Jan. 1, 2011, whichever comes first.

House Speaker Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, said lawmakers delayed the increase to allow the economy a chance to recover before it takes effect.

The tax-and-fee increases are expected to add $300 million a year to the state's transportation fund. Of that, $137 million is slated for state highways and bridges, $82 million for counties and $54 million for cities. Another $3 million would go toward sprucing up rest areas, and the remainder would be spent on alternative and mass transit projects.

On Thursday, the Oregon Transportation Commission approved a list of $15 billion worth of transportation projects as a menu for legislators to pick from. Lawmakers working on the transportation bill will select projects from the list and include them in the bill, Hunt said.

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