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'Portlandized' street fee includes income tax


The City Council discussed a "Portlandized" version of the street fee proposed by Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick on Monday.

The council did not vote or otherwise commit to the new version, which is radically different from the one first offered in May. It include a flat fee on households and a fee based on estimated motor vehicle trips generated by businesses.

The potential fee discussed Monday includes a progressive personal income tax and a sliding scale for businesses to pay. Residents would pay their fee along with their Portland Arts Tax, which is $35 a person for those above the poverty line. Businesses would be billed with their annual city business license tax.

"The fee we proposed in May was mostly what other cities are doing. This version is Portlandized, which means it's not what everyone else is doing, which we mostly thinks is a good thing around here," Novick said at the end of Monday's council work session.

Critics of the original fee agree the potential new one is different — but not better.

"It's worse in every way," says economic consultant Eric Fruits, who attended the work session. "It's hard to believe they can spend all this time working on it, and make even worse."

Although none of the council members promised to be the third vote for the new fee, Hales said he will present it for a public hearing and vote, probably on Nov. 13.

"Even if this passes, Portland's street funding problems aren't over. Far from it. We still need the state and federal governments to do their part and increase their transportation spending," Hales said.

The original proposal was intended to raise around $53 million a year for maintenance and safety projects. It was designed to raise the revenue 50/50 from residents and businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations, and to spend the funds 50/50 on maintenance and safety projects.

The changes were discussed and in some cases recommended by three advisory committees appointed to respond to criticisms of the original proposal.

The potential new fee would raise $40 million a year, but still be divided 50/50 between residents and non-residents, although governments and non-profits might get discounts. Lower-income residents would be exempt from the fee, which would increase on residents as their income increases. The council discussed capping the fee at $20, $50, $100 or $200 a month for the wealthiest Portlanders, but left it up to Hales and Novick to work out the final proposal.

"There are so many unanswered questions, it's unbelievable," said Fruits. "If the council passes it, someone with deep pockets is certain to refer it to the voters."