May 24, 2014 | Oregonian Editorial Board-- The news that many of Portland's roads, sidewalks and intersections are in need of repair or overhaul is not new. The city's auditor more than a year ago issued a report that detailed costly neglect by the city of sufficient maintenance to Portland's more than 5,000 miles of roads – a laxity so egregious it would take about $70 million a year now and going forward just to bring things up to snuff.
What is new is the solution announced last week. City Commissioner Steve Novick and Mayor Charlie Hales effectively told residents and business owners they'd be told to pay up so that the city can get on with the core responsibility of maintaining its transportation infrastructure. At least that's the idea: The council will this week be asked to consider adopting a monthly transportation maintenance fee, indexed to road use and possibly attaching it to the quarterly water and sewer bills received by home- and business-owning Portlanders.
The answer, for now, should be no: twice. That is not to say a street maintenance fee won't be the answer – it likely will, and correctly. But not in this way. The ask is so great – a fee generating up to $50 million a year beyond already high taxes and utility charges – that voters should determine whether City Hall should get the money and proceed or reexamine priorities and function on less revenue. A transportation fee arguably acts as a tax to those paying it, despite its alignment with facility use, and those paying should have the final say.
Novick and Hales are correct in identifying the urgency of the need. Waiting to step up repaving and sidewalk installation will only make things more expensive and risky, particularly around schools. Novick talks about streets as teeth: If you don't brush and floss regularly, decay and problems run deep quickly. But that's no reason to brand a tax a fee and treat it as such an emergency it can't wait READ FULL ARTICLE