Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Another story, another key tidbit buried

Today's Oregonian includes a story by Kathleen Gorman on Washington County's backlog of transportation projects. The story is interesting in its depiction of the county's thought processes concerning road building, but it also buries a key component about that thought process.

The story says a study group has identified $1.8 billion in road maintenance and new projects over the next 14 years, but the group expects less than 40 percent of that total to be available for funding. However, if you read closely, it says (emphasis mine):
The cities and county government have identified $1.8 billion in new road-building projects through 2020, but can count on only about $700 million in funding from the county general fund and developer-paid fees on new construction.
In other words, the cities have their wish lists, but they expect the county to pay for them.

The most interesting aspect to me was the county's solution for how to make up the other 60 percent of funding: the second paragraph said that, assuming the participating parties agree on road priorities, the county could send a tax levy to the November 2007 ballot. Why? Because almost two-thirds of respondents in a 2006 survey said transportation "was the county's most important growth-related challenge." Of course, one-third of those surveyed identified education as the second-most-important challenge, never mind that the county has no role in education funding.

But even though the county is considering a tax levy, let's look at what the respondents -- those who favored more money for transportation -- actually said when given a list of potential income sources:
Fees on new development..................70 percent
Assessment on commercial trucks....55 percent
Business income tax............................45 percent
Gasoline tax increase..........................33 percent
Way down on the list, the story says "others" thought money could come from tolls on major freeways, property taxes, or personal income taxes. Translation: those were the least favored options.

So what does this tell us? Survey respondents like roads, but want someone else -- builders, truckers, businesses -- to pay for them (never mind that those fees will be passed on to the consumer). And the county might consider builder traffic impact fees on builders, but otherwise will ignore the survey and ask for more personal taxes.

Oh, and by the way -- that list of priorities for income sources? Paragraph 15 in a 16-paragraph story. The Oregonian seems to be developing this habit of starting its stories with a claim, but that claim doesn't hold up once you read through the entire story. In this case, Washington County is discussing a tax levy as the preferred method to solve its transportation issues, but it turns out that -- despite Gorman's claim that the survey "showed there might be some support for a tax increase" -- the survey actually showed that tax increases are way down on the list.

Finally, I found it interesting that the fourth and fifth paragraphs quote County Commissioner Roy Rogers:
"People say you're always asking for money," Rogers said. If voters don't want to approve a tax increase, he added, that's OK, "just don't say later that things aren't working."
Translation: stuff costs money, and if you don't want to give us more of yours, then don't complain about things.

I'd argue that if two-thirds of county residents believe road improvements are the most important growth-related challenge, maybe the county should consider rearranging its budget to accommodate those results. Maybe the county should force cities to come up with cash, not just a wish list. And maybe the county should avoid telling taxpayers -- the people who pay the county's bills -- to shut up if they're not willing to pony up more taxes.

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