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Transportation bill lays out taxes, improvements for Eastern Oregon

The legislature’s Joint Committee for Transportation Preservation and Modernization has released the text of its proposed transportation package to be voted on this summer
Jade McDowell

East Oregonian

Published on June 1, 2017 5:27PM

Last changed on June 1, 2017 9:29PM


The 298-page transportation package released by the state promises money for multiple projects in Eastern Oregon, but also extra taxes.

The long-awaited House Bill 2017 was published online by the Oregon Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation Preservation and Modernization on Wednesday.

The 10-year plan would raise more than $8 billion for transportation projects around the state. Revenue streams would include raising the statewide gas tax from 30 cents to 44 cents over 10 years, putting a 0.75 percent tax on all vehicle sales, a 0.1 percent payroll tax and a series of increases in vehicle registration fees over the next eight years based on a vehicle’s miles-per-gallon rating.

One of the bill’s revenue streams is a three percent excise tax on sales of adult bicycles costing over $500.

Scott Cimmiyotti, owner of Scott’s Cycle and Sports in Hermiston, said he disagreed with the provision that only bicycles over $500 would be taxed. In the big cities where commuting to work by bicycle is more popular, commuters are likely paying $500 or more for a bicycle, he said. But in rural cities like Hermiston more expensive bicycles tend to be for mountain biking, while people are riding Walmart bicycles around town that cost less than $500 but put just as much wear and tear on the street.

“You’re working on the small guy but letting the big guy go,” he said. “... If you’re going to do that, do it to everyone.”

He called the tax “kind of a bummer” for his business and said he felt the benefits of increased bicycle lanes would mostly go to the metro area.

The largest projects listed in the bill are located in Portland and surrounding metro areas, including projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars designed to widen Interstate 5, Interstate 205 and Highway 217. But Portland residents will also be paying more, via additional fuel taxes and new tolls at the Washington state line on Interstate 5 and Interstate 205.

Revenue

The upside of raising more money, of course, is that there will be more money to spend. Cities and counties will see extra gas tax money in the millions of dollars over the 10 years for road, bridge and culvert improvements.

The legislature is also setting aside money for specific projects in each of ODOT’s regions. Region 5, which covers most of Eastern Oregon, will receive $23.9 million, and there will be another $10 million set aside for joint projects between Region 5 and Region 4. That list covers things like $3 million to the city of Milton-Freewater for “pedestrian and highway improvements.”

City Manager Linda Hall said the city doesn’t have any actual highways, but does have “roads wide enough to be a highway that are certainly showing wear and tear,” especially after the harsh winter.

“Streets that we thought would be OK for another five to 10 years are not OK anymore,” she said.

Hall also said that the city could also use the money to add sidewalks to areas where children are currently walking to school along the side of a busy road.

She said Milton-Freewater is an example of a “small city with limited resources” that could really be helped by the transportation package to do projects that would not otherwise be possible.

Projects

The following projects in Umatilla County and Morrow County are also listed in the bill:

• The city of Hermiston would receive funds to widen and improve North First Place and add traffic signals to the road’s intersections with Highland Avenue and Orchard Avenue.

• The Port of Umatilla would receive funds for a road project that General Manager Kim Puzey said will allow the port to “improve access to Columbia River import and export terminals, most especially the movement of bulk commodities such as grain and fuel products.”

• The Columbia Development Authority would receive funds for improving access from Interstate 82 into the former Umatilla Chemical Depot, which the authority is planning to open to industrial development after the depot is transferred from the Army to the CDA. The Oregon Military Department would also receive funds for improving the rail system on its section of the depot.

• Umatilla County would receive funds to pave and improve Ott Road and East Airport Road to provide better access to the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center.

• Heppner would receive $3 million for various needed pedestrian and highway improvements.

• The Port of Morrow would receive funds for the East Beach Industrial Park rail expansion.

• Morrow County would receive an extra $108,073 for road maintenance each year.

Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, sits on the Joint Committee for Transportation Preservation and Modernization and a variety of other committees, including as a co-vice chair of Ways and Means.

He said District 57, including Umatilla County and Morrow County, did “really well” in comparison with other rural areas on the amount of dollars coming in for projects. He said it may seem unfair to some other cities and counties, but when it comes to funding there is a pendulum that swings toward different districts during different sessions.

“There are times that legislators find themselves in positions to help their districts, and this is our time,” he said.

Smith also said that projects that clear up congestion in the Portland area benefit Eastern Oregon by allowing farmers and others to move their commodities across the state faster.

The projects listed in House Bill 2017 are not a done deal. The bill will be the subject of public hearings on June 6-7 and is still open to amendments before being passed on to the legislature for a vote. And while the committee is optimistic that enough votes can be found in the House and the Senate to pass the bill, the legislature was on its way to passing a similar package in 2015 when negotiations fell apart over disagreements on the state’s low-carbon fuels standard.

Even if the governor signs the bill, a provision inside states that if voters challenge and repeal any part of its revenue-raising provisions, the entire bill will be repealed so that the state doesn’t end up committed to paying for projects it hasn’t raised the money for.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.



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