Bob Rubitschun: Agency Claims to Incorporate Community Feedback But Refused to Put Proposals to Ballot
The great ODOT has spoken. Thank you for posting “A Future Without Gas Taxes”. At least now we know this state agency’s previously unspoken reasoning behind the I-205 toll.
Decades ago, automakers were required by law to improve gas mileage and reduce emissions across their entire fleet of vehicles. They responded by producing vehicles that get impressive mileage and rarely fail a DEQ emissions test. The unintended consequences of this success have been a reduction in gas tax revenue per vehicle, ODOT’s main source of funding. Even with Oregon’s growing population and increased car travel, the gas tax is unable to keep up with manufacturer improvements.
To compensate for the loss of revenue, ODOT wants a three-pronged tax to generate revenue for road maintenance: 1) gas tax, 2) road usage charge per mile and 3) toll on certain freeway segments. According to their system, it is possible for a vehicle to pay several taxes (petrol, road use and toll) to use the same stretch of road.
According to ODOT director Kris Strickler, “those who pay the toll can be confident that those tolls are invested in the roads they walk, cycle and drive on, and in the services they use.” On paper this may sound good, but in reality it means that motorists will fund alternative modes of transport, sidewalks, bike lanes and public transport with their tolls. Of course, a small percentage will go to road maintenance, but the ultimate goal is to make driving so expensive that fewer vehicles are on the road. These costs will impact all Oregonians.
ODOT claims to incorporate community and stakeholder input, but has repeatedly refused to support putting their proposals on the ballot for voters to decide for themselves. Their stance in public meetings has been to let citizens express their concerns and then do what they want.
I live in a small cul-de-sac community and almost all of the new neighbors are from California. They are all good people. When you chat with them about why they left California, their stories are eerily similar: living there is too expensive. They don’t talk about real estate costs, since they all owned houses. They talk about endless user fees to go anywhere or do anything. They paid general taxes, then paid royalties, user fees, and tolls for everything else. They did not like the government’s overreach. Is this starting to sound familiar?
Just a few weeks ago, the ODOT announced, beginning in May, that permits and fees would be required to use the historic Columbia River Highway in the Columbia River Gorge. This area is an Oregon treasure that offers some of the best hiking in the state and now ODOT will control who gets to enjoy it. As an outdoor enthusiast, I find this appalling.
I see the handwriting on the wall – a toll here and user fees there and soon Oregonians won’t be able to do the things we enjoy without paying exorbitant fees. I am a strong supporter of involving ordinary citizens in finding sensible solutions to public policy problems. I call on our elected officials to allow Oregonians to participate in the democratic process and put these taxes, tolls and fees on the ballot. We just need courage, intelligence and heart to do what is right. Oregonians want to live here because there is no place like home.
Bob Rubitschun is a resident of Oregon City.
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