Predictably, the Pendleton gas tax failed.
A hurried, disjointed campaign came up well short in the Sisyphean task of convincing tax-burdened Pendleton voters to voluntarily saddle themselves with another one.
It is unknown how city council will choose to move forward from the defeat.
Councilor Al Plute, who was most vocal in support of the measure, said he still feels a gas tax is the best way to dig out of a gargantuan and growing hole of deferred maintenance. And he is right about that. A local gas tax would go mostly unnoticed by consumers who are already used to wild fluctuations in the price of petroleum. And part of the money would be paid by travelers, who surely would be unaware of their noble addition to the Pendleton street fund.
The reason that nearly two out of every three voters were against is not quite clear. Perhaps voters don’t believe that city council would accomplish enough with the gas tax dollars. Perhaps voters took the opportunity to voice their displeasure about a number of recent council decisions, including trying mightily to banish marijuana business and tax dollars from Pendleton, investing heavily in our long-forgotten airport and a heretofore quixotic quest to attract UAV manufacturers, as well as substantial outlays on questionable public works projects like the Eighth Street Bridge and bringing utilities to the empty field that is the airport industrial park. Add in a recent agreement with a shady development company, and you can imagine voters deciding that giving this council more money can only do more damage.
Yet people can change their minds. A gas tax is not always destined to fail. Sisyphus can get to the top of that hill.
We see it already with marijuana. Just months ago, 55 percent of Pendletonians voted against its legality. Yet now that it’s the law of the land, and the apocalyptic warnings of police chief Stuart Roberts and mayor Phillip Houk have been unsubstantiated, the tide has turned. Would city councilors do the simplest and most democratic thing and put a marijuana business ban on the ballot in 2016, it would be all but guaranteed to fail. Still, council is doing its best to bury that opportunity and forcing residents to outright defy them in order have their wishes respected on the matter.
Politically, the city council has backed themselves into a corner on this issue. Houk told the larger than normal crowd that turned out for Tuesday’s meeting that he hoped they would come to more city council meetings. Immediately after, city council decided to ignore the majority of residents who spoke in favor of allowing marijuana businesses. Who, then, would actually go to a city council meeting when councilors don’t listen to them?
And that may be the only concrete takeaway from this failure of the gas tax: Pendleton voters distrust their city council even more than they dislike their roads.
Judging by recent decisions, how could we blame them?