Portland considers new monthly tax for roads

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A new Portland tax for repairing and maintaining the city's busiest roads, as well as pedestrian safety projects, is getting closer to becoming reality.

The city conducted a phone survey detailing possible tax options the city is discussing. It centers around two main choices: either an $8 per month tax or a $12 per month tax per household. Other options listed included a one percent sales tax on everything except groceries.

"If the streets went away tomorrow, how much would you pay to bring them back?" asked Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick, who also leads the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). "Because really, ultimately, that's what we're talking about. Our streets are gradually eroding, gradually going away."

Mayor Charlie Hales first told KATU News on "Your Voice, Your Vote" in November that the city was considering a tax for road repairs.

"I just don't know what it will be," he said at the time.

Then in December, Novick playfully asked Santa for the money. "We know that people are tapped out," Novick said then.

Now the asking is getting real. The phone survey results will be made public next week, but the people KATU News asked about a new tax did not seem to like the idea.

"They tax us too much as it is," said one Portland resident.

"I would not be interested in paying for that," said resident Mark Klosterman. "I think it should be paid for by people doing the most damage to the roads."

Novick responded to concerns like that with what experts have told him: weather does the most damage.

"Water is the enemy of pavement," Novick said. "The truth is all of us use the road. If we walk, we use the roads or sidewalks; if we bike, we use the roads, and if we drive we're using the roads."

He said Portland hasn't had the money for basic maintenance in years, and the city needs to act sooner than later.

"Streets are like teeth. If you don't brush and floss and do regular cleaning, then they get worse and you have to do more expensive things, like root canals and extractions," Novick said. "I wish we weren't in this position."

City Council could decide about the new tax or it could be on the November ballot for voters to choose.