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.