When Mayor Charlie Hales took office last winter, he said Portland City Hall wouldn't pursue new taxes for streets and sidewalks until "after we show we mean it with black tar."
The city has patched 76 miles of streets this year, closing in on the mayor's goal of 100 miles. And Hales apparently thinks the time is right to start the money search.
As first reported by WW in this week's Murmurs, Hales and City Commissioner Steve Novick have begun shopping ideas for new taxes and fees to fund the cash-strapped Portland Bureau of Transportation.
People who have seen the proposals say they include a city gas tax and a street-maintenance fee—ideas last floated in 2012 by then-Mayor Sam Adams.
Hales and Novick have talked to the Portland Business Alliance about the idea, and Novick confirms he's preparing a task force to examine possible options.
"We've reached out to some of the folks that were involved in Adams' street-fee process," Novick says. "We're trying to figure out methods to raise money, and also what to spend it on."
The second part of that equation has dogged PBOT for years.
City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade scolded the City Council this year for approving PBOT's $341 million annual budget that failed to set aside enough money for basic road upkeep.
And Hales' office quietly set aside a proposal this summer to make a gas tax part of a larger "carbon tax" plan, after a phone survey showed little voter enthusiasm.
Novick tells WW that voters will back new taxes or fees if they know they are for sidewalks and other safety-related projects, as well as filling the city's street-paving backlog.
"I think," Novick says, "it's a case we can make."