Saturday, February 15, 2014

Yes! Enact a local gas tax in Bend

For the first time in five years, Bend is considering a modest gas tax to help pay for our deteriorating roads.

It's long overdue in a tourist town with no sales tax and no current local gas tax.

Maybe, just maybe, city staff and the tourism industry can see that unsafe roads don't make Bend more attractive to those driving here for a visit.

Due to Bend's harsh weather and heavy trucks, potholes dominate the major roadways and make driving treacherous at times.

Whenever a pothole forms, the city lets it age awhile, six months on the westside and up to a year or longer on the eastside. No need to rush, the alignment shops need the business.

Consistently dangerous intersections receive no makeovers to make them less dangerous. Hey, the auto body shops need clients, too. The hospital, as well.

In 2008, the city wimped out and failed to adopt a gas tax after pressure from the "oiligarchs," who then got a atate amendment passed banning any city from even considering a gas tax for five years.

In the meantime, the roads are worse than ever.

The same can be said for roads all over the country, thanks in large measure to the federal gas tax, which has been stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993.

Oregon, which levied the first gas tax in the nation in 1919,  has an average gas tax of 31.1 cents per gallon, the lowest on the west coast. Two counties and 14 cities in the state currently have a local gas tax on top of the state rate of 30 cents per gallon.

In Washington state, the average gas tax is 37.5 cents per gallon. In California, it's 53.2 cents per gallon. The 18.4-cent federal tax is added to these numbers.

And some people think that mass transit is expensive.

Meanwhile, ODOT is working on a different way to raise road funds by charging drivers by their mileage. It's a volunteer program to be enacted next year. A full-scale, compulsory per-mile tax scheme is going to be difficult, if not impossible, to verify.

The state is concerned that electric and hybrid vehicle owners are paying either nothing or significantly less than gas and diesel vehicle owners.

The electric vehicle argument is bogus since there are so few electric vehicles on the road and won't be for at least a decade to make a difference.

As for hybrid owners, they are paying gas taxes and the use of those vehicles should be encourage, not discouraged by a tax targeted at them.

Plus, about 90 percent of the damage to roads is done by heavy trucks, like a triple-trailer Freightliner, and not by lightweight hybrids, like a Prius. The two vehicles are not equal in their effect on the road surface.

And no, studded tire usage doesn't cause all of that last 10 percent of damage to the roads since less than 10 percent of vehicles even use studded tires in Oregon.

Anyway, back in Bend, the city desperately needs more money to maintain the current road network, let alone make improvements to dangerous intersections.

Public safety in a relatively low-crime place like Bend, begins with safe roads.

If the roads aren't safe to drive on, it means that that even the police or firemen can't do their jobs properly.

If the city fails once again to do the right thing and institute a local gas tax, the burden to fix the potholes will shift once more on property taxpayers, even those like the elderly, who rarely, if ever, drive a car.

Impose a local gas tax of at least 3 cents per gallon and fix the roads.

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