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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why you so desperately want to pay more gas tax

The other day we had a few laughs as we pondered the City of Portland's ongoing hardcore campaign for a gas tax increase. Commissioner Sam the Tram and Transportation Sue are spending lots and lots of our dough to convince us that they need to collect even more of our dough. The worst part of it all, of course, is that it's part of a massive "public involvement" charade that's going to conclude that yes, the Portland public actually wants the tax increase -- they're absolutely clamoring for it!

Why not just put it up for a public vote? Ha! Ha! More laughs.

Anyway, as I said the other day, I actually support the gas tax increase, but I sure do wish that they'd turn off the expensive snow blowers and just go ahead and do the right thing. Instead, the city's filling neighborhood newspapers like the Hollywood Star News with multi-page, multi-color inserts that reek of propaganda. The facts of the Portland's current budget situation are greatly distorted in these documents, which go on at great length about the proposed new taxes -- as if four pages of half-truths will somehow add up to two pages of truth. It doesn't work that way.

Perhaps the most disingenuous feature of the flyer is its answer to the most intelligent question that people are asking about the city's supposed transportation money crisis:

Now, there's a half-truth, at best. The fact is that the federal and state governments contribute little or nothing to the operation and maintenance budgets of the aerial tram [rim shot] and streetcars. The city pays a pretty petty into the maintenance pots of both of those wasteful, condo-marketing toys. At last report, the city subsidy of the tram is running around $400,000 a year, and the city subsidy of the streetcar is $1.6 million a year. That's money that the city could be spending on other transportation projects. And if the streetcar gets extended to the east side, you can add another $600,000 a year, or more, of city transportation money to the numbers.

Also in the Twisted Facts Department are some of the assertions about how problems with streets and traffic are affecting people. Now they're being blamed for why kids don't walk to school any more:

I know that every tax increase on earth has to be sold as "for the children," but this one's quite the stretch. There are lots of reasons that parents don't let their kids walk to school, and dangerous intersections are part of the equation in some cases. But hey, even if the streets are paved with gold and the cars can't get anywhere near the kids, most parents aren't going to let their children walk to school in this day and age. For one thing, too many of Portland's lovable "open air mental health treatment" patients are out there. For another, the schools in these parts are mostly either crumbling or closing, which leads to daily long-distance trips for a lot of students. It's too far to walk. Biking to school is inherently too dangerous, too wet, and eventually you get your bike stolen. The gas tax isn't going to change any of that.

After they get done twisting the current circumstances, the authors of the elaborate sales pitch turn to what each neighborhood will get out of the new gas taxes. Show a local benefit, they reason, and people will be delighted to pay more at the pump. But what they consider to be your "neighborhood" is pretty amusing. For example, here's part of what they're pitching to the folks in the Hollywood, Rose City, and Alameda neighborhoods:

There's a bridge at NE 21st and the Columbia Slough? Wow. I've lived in Portland for nearly 30 years, most of it in Irvington and Alameda, and I might have gone over it once. You'll have to excuse me if I don't get a rush of selfish excitement out of that one. Columbia Boulevard from 14th to 60th -- that's supposed to get my neighborhood rocks off? Man, that's a major highway. You might want to sell that one in "Portland Truckstop" magazine, but it's not doing much for me.

Next, please note that they say if they get the gas tax revenue, they'll beef up police patrols on the freeway, which will cut down on the reckless and drunk driving that's supposedly the cause of 40 percent of the traffic congestion we encounter every day:

I get a real kick out of that one, on a couple of levels. First, I question whether 40 percent of all congestion in Portland is from crashes. It seems to me that a lot of it is from cars breaking down, and if we're paying more gas tax, there'll be less in our personal auto budgets for maintenance. Moreover, it seems like the major cause of our congestion problem is just too darn many cars, and freeways that aren't wide enough to accommodate them all. I know, in the progressive, green, sustainable, car-hating world of Earl the Pearl, those are benefits, not problems, but as the kids put it these days, I'm just saying.

The second level of amusement here is the notion that Portland police are ever going to take traffic enforcement seriously. I don't care how much money you throw at that bureau (and wait 'til you see it with Sam the Tram running it -- hold onto your Tasers), it clearly has no interest in pulling people over for bad driving. Once in a blue moon they run a speed trap and get a lot of publicity, but come on. When was the last time you saw them out there on traffic duty? Meanwhile, the way people drive around here has become absolutely savage. No, the Portland police culture is never going to include traffic enforcement, no matter how much money we pay in gas tax. That one's just not going to fly.

Then there's the magic that the new tax revenue is going to work "for the children." High up on the list of improvements that are supposed to materialize as a result of the new "funding options" are these:

Wow. We need a gas tax increase just to identify the safest walking routes to schools? No one is lifting a finger to identify these routes now? Good Lord, have we sunk that low? Please. If schools need help identifying the safe and unsafe places to walk around them, I'm sure we could round up some volunteers for free.

Then there's this:

Wait a minute. We need a gas tax increase just to get the city's traffic engineers to time the traffic signals? Don't they already do that? If not, then what the heck do they do?

If you haven't gotten your hands on one of these newspaper inserts, you owe it to yourself to pick up one of the freebie papers in your neighborhood before they're all gone and get a good look. Even if you don't care much about the gas tax, this is quite the sneak preview of the jerk-arounds that will be coming at you from every corner of Portland's intrusive local government as Grampy bows out and the Tramster takes over. It's Vera Katz with a Y chromosome. Scary indeed.

Comments (19)

They all take classes and learn how to do this stuff from books and DVD's published by such organizations as "The International Downtown Association". And we the tax payers pay for this!
Look it up on the web folks!

Wait a minute. We need a gas tax increase just to get the city's traffic engineers to time the traffic signals? Don't they already do that? If not, then what the heck do they do?

Of course they do. But you have to have a signal head that is sufficiently modern to be able to talk to the controller. That's what these funds will pay for, replacing the ancient signal heads.

I've grown weary of the famous shell-game dodge: "It's federal money for light rail only, and if we didn't grab it, someone else would."

Is that so, Sam Adams? Earl Blumenauer? So you have, of course, lobbied the feds and/or proposed and supported legislation to allow those funds to be used for roads, right?

Didn't think so.

No more taxes! Basic services like signal timing and repairing roads are declining while the tram, streetcar and bike infrastructure are going forward. Follow the money. With Earl the bicyclist in Congress and bicycle radical Rex B over at Metro we don't have a chance. Move out of Portland, come back and visit what somebody else is paying for.

It sure would be nice if Portland could get its federal and state transportation dollars back largely in the form of road improvements instead of streetcars. Streetcars benefit relatively few Portlanders. Most Portlanders, even if they are bicycle enthusiasts or walkers, still need to drive a car frequently for a multitude of different reasons. Yet driving is getting ever more dangerous because of the competition for road space amongst cars, bicyclists and parking (symptoms of the densification of Portland city). I sometimes wonder if we couldn't spend the streetcar money on building elevated bicycle paths to separate cars and bikes at dangerous parts of mainstreets. Also, up in the Sound area, I-5 has been expanded in key spots by building these single loops that go out and back into I-5. Maybe the Delta Park/I-5 area could be de-bottlenecked by such engineering. Just looking for breakout like solutions.

Here's someone who won't be paying gas tax unless we can help them find their car

Sandy is a good example of how Sam tricks us. The street improvements include:
Weaving lanes that will probably increase minor accidents.
More difficult right turns, especially the one in front of KATU ( East bound ).
bus stops in the middle of the travel lane which increase congestion.

Sorry Sam no money until you promise to spend it ALL on congestion relief, instead of phoney “safety” “improvements” that muck up traffic.

Let me point out, what I consider to be a lie: the claim that no road money goes to the streetcar. 100% of parking meter money previously went to roads. Then they raised the hourly fee and used that increase for the streetcar. No longer does 100% go to roads. And talk is that new meters on some streets will be all for the little toy train. But no road money was used for streetcars.

Sam, at least promise us that NO MONEY will be used in a manner that increases congestion. Without that promise, you’ll loose an, almost certain, referral.

One last comment: Sam, you and your co-conspirators have put us in the position of diverting $75 MILLION in tax money to the PDC, Portland’s share of this would have been $30 MILLION. Bottom line, we had plenty of money, but you guys gave it away to Homer’s whores and the condo gang and now want us to pay for your giveaways.

PDC$ Reference: Pg 47 of TSCC report. get it from


The gas tax would be just in Portland right? Good thing I live close enough that I buy my gas in Gresham where it appears to be cheaper.

I think they are nuts, I won't support giving them any more money until they can show us that they have stopped wasting what they have. As I recall a recent audit said that they were spending the road maintenance money on substandard materials that caused the work to fail, and the maintenance to have to be paid for again. You don't make forward progress with a one step forward, two steps backwards method.

That's what these funds will pay for, replacing the ancient signal heads.

There you have it, folks. Chris Smith, head "citizen" shill for the streetcar, is a honcho in the overall transportation system now. The city is doomed.

What's wrong with (or who is?) Chris Smith that he gets the big 'ol ad hominem comeback to what looks like an informational comment?

You need to look up what "ad hominem" means. If I wanted to make an ad hominem comment about him (and I have been sorely tempted over the years), believe me, I wouldn't start with what I've written.

Chris Smith is a public figure who has chosen to identify himself with the streetcar foolishness and the condo developers who are the ones primarily benefiting from it. He may be well meaning (although he wants to be on the City Council so bad he can taste it), but if so, he's being used.

The fact that he's now the expert on traffic signal synchronization is a sign that people of his ilk have now assumed control of the city's transportation office. And that's a very bad sign for the city's livability and finances.

Just to add to what Mr. Karlock alluded to above, with regards to the now-completed Sandy Streetscape Project, said project was billed as including large set-asides for pedestrian improvements as well on the stretch from 47th west. And what, you may ask, did those improvements consist of? Mostly adding ADA-compliant street ramps along the entire route -- something that has been required by law for about a decade anyway.

The end result is all the crazy curvy lanes, crappy paving job that had to be redone, and a street that is no more walkable than it has been for years.

Nice work.

"I think they are nuts, I won't support giving them any more money until they can show us that they have stopped wasting what they have. As I recall a recent audit said that they were spending the road maintenance money on substandard materials that caused the work to fail, and the maintenance to have to be paid for again. You don't make forward progress with a one step forward, two steps backwards method."

This sums up my opinion perfectly. I sure hope this goes to the voters. Where do I volunteer?

No New Taxes, leave the pot holes alone, I find they slow traffic and create jobs.

Where was Sam'a gas tax pitch when the legislature was being lobbied last session and then doled out $250 million for light rail and another $20 million for street cars? He was endorsing it behind the scenes.
Sam knew the road maintenance backlog and other road needs were pressig and he knew the legislature was being pumped to fund rail.
Only after more rail was funded dis Sam then begin his pitch for ather funds.

Let them raise the gas tax. I'll just leave my car parked in the garage while I bike commute as I've done for thirty years.

JK: I just noticed another little deceit:
Sam’s paper:
Decline in kids walking or biking to school from 66% in th 1960s to less than 13% today (traffic is the biggest concern after distance to school)

JK: WOW, lets spend millions on the SECOND biggest concern and ignore the biggest concern - the distance to school. The distance to school has been increasing lately as they close one school after another. You don’t suppose that it has something to do with:

Schools being short of money because Sam & his cohorts on the council are giving away $75million to developers this year in urban renewal funds, 22% ($16.5 MILLION) of which would have gone to the schools. I wonder how many schools $16.5 mil would keep open?

Thanks Sam!


Cool. Now I can engage in a tax protest by riding a bike.

I just bought one on Wednesday, used. My first since my last one was stolen 20+ years ago.

It might be slightly more rewarding than lawfully protesting income taxes by not having income. (Think exercise, and the invigoration of putting one's life in jeopardy for a cheap thrill.)

Plus it might serve as a PC prop when asking for signatures or donations dedicated to public interest objective X Y or Z. (Like tattooing PROGRESSIVE on my forehead, instead of asking "What's Your Sign?")

(My Faith in craigslist has been restored too.)

Thank you Sam.

I got pictures from my first bike rebellion against the gas tax . . . (including a perspective on IKEA).


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