Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is proposing a new transportation tax for 2015. He claims this is needed to offset a decline in revenue.
However, the facts show a different story. Total revenue for transportation has been growing for decades. For example, from 1996-2007, Portland transportation revenue grew by 60%. According to the city auditor, that was the largest increase among all city agencies during that period.
Portland’s general fund has also been flush. Between 2003 and 2012, the amount of annual tax revenue the city received from each Portland resident increased from $2,292 to $2,656. Total property taxes grew by 27% during that time.
Despite all this money, the city’s streets are poorly maintained. The problem is that local politicians have preferred to spend vast amounts on frivolous toys like the eastside streetcar and Milwaukie light rail, rather than taking care of basic maintenance. As a result, transportation debt service has increased from 10% of discretionary spending to 20% in just the past four years. The charge card is getting maxed out.
Instead of demanding more tax dollars for shiny new objects, the City Council should maintain and improve the basic road network. If this task is too difficult, taxpayers should ask why we bother to have a city government at all.
John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.