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Gas Tax Vote Could Return Local Control

July 28th, 2007 by dk

It looks like the Eugene City Council is going to have to ask nicely for permission to hike the city’s gasoline tax from three to five to eight cents. The signature-gathering effort helped by the Oregon Petroleum Association turned last week from a near-miss to a real-deal, after Lane County Circuit Court Judge Gregory Foote ruled that Kitty Piercy was the only legitimate mayoral candidate in the city’s fall 2004 election.

Eugene City Council must now choose its strategy. If they appeal the ruling, they run the risk of angering voters for either not consulting them or for wasting money making their case again in court. They could rescind the tax altogether and be done with it, leaving millions of dollars’ worth of street repairs lining up, like so many rush hour commuters at an underbuilt intersection. Or they can allow the referendum on the ballot, with or without a competing proposal of their own making for voters’ consideration.

If voters are given a choice between a tax or no-tax, it’s not hard to see which side has the wind at their back. The last tax measure (for public safety) took a shellacking in almost every precinct across the city. And potholes are not as frightening as criminals roaming our streets.

Yet the city is facing a backlog of street repairs approaching $100 million, with no hope of making headway without more money.

Bill Sizemore and other anti-tax activists have creatively adapted their measures to voter sentiment for the past couple of decades. It’s high time government did the same.

Measure 5 promised to reduce taxes, but by consolidating spending in Salem, it made life easier for lobbyists and more difficult for school districts. Measure 47’s double majority requirement outsmarted municipalities who found that low-turnout elections were easier to win.

Eugene City Council should place their own referendum on the fall ballot, but not in competition with the one placed there by Eugene gasoline stations and their customers. Rather, it should be complementary.

“Should the city of Eugene take into account voting outcomes from each precinct when apportioning its road funds?”

Although individual voters can be sure their votes are secret and beyond the reach of anyone in government, the outcome in each of Eugene’s 34 precincts is public information. If the city suggested they will look at those voting outcomes to decide where money will be spent, people might feel again as if their votes matter.

Voters who turn down both the tax and the apportioning strategy will face their duplicity, complaining about road conditions but refusing to approve money to fix the problem. Those who vote for both will have reason to encourage neighbors to do the same as a matter of civic pride, much the same way people used to band together for better schools.

Measure 5 took away local control. A creative gas tax referendum can put it back. Politics never gets more local than the pothole on your street.

Imagine people organizing their neighborhoods to be sure they have healthy turnout and many “Yes” votes, as a way of telling the city they want the streets they use most to be repaired first.

Other parts of town will say “No” to the tax and will be grateful to be left alone. Why have the town spend thousands on a series of speed bumps or other traffic calming schemes, when the potholes of neglect can do the job just as well?

Both neighborhoods can look with pride on their votes and the direct effect it had on their streets being how they want them to be. This will be true whether the city gets eight cents from every gallon of gasoline or three cents.

{184 – 89 = 95}

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  • 1 sturdygirl Jul 29, 2007 at 8:45 am

    Is going hyperlocal the best way to contend with the superlocal, Don Kahle? I wonder whether potholes present the best first attempt. Roads provide the most obvious and mundane of connections. “Our people” in “our town” are geographically accessible to each other because of them. To be sure, within the precincts that, en masse, prefer to be “left alone,” there will be some who would vote to pay the tax. And those precincts that prefer to be taxed will have their dissenters.

    I won’t wonder why the majorities might decide against the tax (wealth, ideology, 4-wheel drives?). But I suspect the precinct results will become coded with assumptions about why, and I hope that those assumptions won’t make us less accessible to each other, roads notwithstanding.

    Tasking the Council with parsing the precincts in such a deliberate and consequential way is an important idea, but should we wait for a different test case? One that self-parses the “have-nots” from the “don’t wants”?

  • 2 Jennymoose Jul 30, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    The 800 pound gorilla that nobody talks about is the absurd cost of keeping our roads [and the rest of our government, for that matter] in “repair”. Between the “Little Davis-Bacon Act” requiring “prevailing”, i.e. “union” wages be paid to any government contractor’s employees and the salaries and benefits paid to City work crews[don’t even get me started on PERS], is it any wonder that no matter how much taxes are raised we keep falling behind? I’d venture that many of the “no” votes are an inchoate protest against the high-jacking of the public sector by the unions and the lack of “social justice” in the misapportionment of resources from the private to the public sectors as a result. Until salaries and benefits in the public and private sectors once again become comparable [or public employees get less in return for their sinecues and security], criminals will roam the ever more pot-holed streets while politicians wring their hands and blame the voters for just not “understanding”.

  • […] See an earlier iteration of this idea at here. […]