It should be an easy "yes" vote for the 5-cent per gallon fuel tax on the March ballot.
The roads are in terrible shape, there is an $80 million backlog of repairs and gas prices are the lowest they've been in years. Plus, all the other major cities in the state have had a local gas tax for years and their fuel prices are sometimes lower than nearby cities without a gas tax. And, since Bend is a tourist town, road travelers would pay about 30 percent of this gas tax.
All in all, a no-brainer.
Yet, there are reasons to be skeptical of its passage.
First, the city of Bend is managed poorly. Aside from bad council decisions like Juniper Ridge, The Bulletin property fiasco and the Juniper Utility debacle that squandered millions, the city workers do a lousy job of running the town.
Public works is a joke and the city manager serves developers and not the citizens of Bend.
Plus, the 5-cent tax should generate only about $2.5 million a year, and it sunsets in 10 years. Obviously, road repairs will be needed after 10 years.
With an $80 million backlog in repairs now, we'll have only an additional $25 million after 10 years to tackle that backlog. Hello, anyone home? That leaves $55 million worth of repairs, assuming the roads show no additional wear and tear in 10 years, that will never be addressed unless the voters pass another multi-million dollar bond.
And, we saw what happened when we passed the last $30 million road bond. Roughly $18 million was earmarked for the Reed Market Road rebuild. But, city staff scaled back the project after it hood-winked southeast Bend residents into thinking they were getting at least one more roundabout and landscaping to match other city thoroughfares. No, the city diverted almost a third of that $18 million to spruce up a section of 14th Street on Bend's west side.
Who's to say the city won't take some of that gas tax and use it to beautify other stretches of roads on Bend's west side rather than fixing roads all over town. The city is hard to trust on this issue.
What is unsaid in all the arguments for and against the gas tax is that if it doesn't pass, the city will likely add another fee for roads onto the utility bills of all Bend residents. That could be at least $10 a month, which is four times what the gas tax is estimated to cost. And, it would ask nothing of tourists.
In spite of all the negatives, there are more compelling reasons to pass the gas tax.
First is fairness. People who drive vehicles should pay for the roads, not the people who don't use vehicles on the roads. Tourists expect to pay for their impact on a community and we should oblige them.
Secondly, we've been living a lie since the Reagan years. There isn't money in government to do everything for everyone. Cutting taxes does not generate revenue to fix infrastructure or anything else. In fact, the opposite is true. Infrastructure across this country is failing, due, in large measure, to this idea that increasing taxes will destroy us. Well, we are falling apart, the deficit is ballooning and taxes are at historic lows.
The federal government hasn't raised the gas tax in nearly 25 years. It should've been increasing the gas tax by at least a penny per gallon per year.
And, let's dispense of this unfounded notion that studded tires do most of the damage to our roads. Few vehicles, less than 5 percent, use studded tires these days. Most use studless snow tires, if they use them at all. Costco hasn't sold studded tires for 10 years at least. The damage done to our roads is from the weather and the heavy trucks that pulverize the pavement.
The bottom line is this: If we want something, we should be willing to pay for it. If we want the potholes fixed, Bend residents and tourists should pay the gas tax. It's the right thing to do.