May 22nd, 2014 | by Nigel Jaquiss and Aaron Mesh News | Posted In: Politics, Business, PDX News

Business Groups Opposed to Transportation Fee Begin Organizing

Restaurant lobbyist Bill Perry on voter referral: "I think they know it would get shot down in a heartbeat."

streetfeeCity Commissioner Steve Novick announces the plan for a Portland street fee on May 22. - Aaron Mesh

Business groups—including associations of hotels, restaurants and convenience stores—will meet next week to begin planning opposition to the street fee Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick announced today.

Among the options available to opponents: Referring a fee passed by City Council to voters in November. The Oregon Petroleum Association stopped a similar fee proposed by then-Commissioner Sam Adams in 2008 by threatening to refer it. The Oregon Neighborhood Store Association was also involved in that fight.

Richard Kosesan, a lobbyist for the Oregon Neighborhood Store Association, which represents convenience stores, says his group is concerned about the pace at which Hales and Novick are moving.

"It feels like they are in a hurry, yet they say they won’t impose the fee until July 2015," Kosesan says. "There’s an inherent disconnect there. To push and push and say you aren’t going impose until next year."

The larger concerns for Portland's 500 to 600 convenience stores, Kosesan says, are cost and equity. The preliminary structure of the fee would charge homeowners a flat fee and charge businesses based on square footage and number of trips generated.

Convenience stores, of course, generate relatively little revenue per trip compared to department stores, appliance or car dealers.

"There's an inherent issue of equity," Kosesan says. "Are you comparing apples to apples and are you charging businesses for trips made by people who don't live here?"

Another powerful group concerned about the proposed fee is the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Bill Perry, a lobbyist for ORLA, says his members already feel overburdened by high water and sewer bills, soaring food prices and the cost of new mandates such as the sick leave ordinance City Council passed in 2013.

"The size and scope of the proposed fee is a problem," Perry says. "Surrounding communities have fees that are nowhere near as high."

Perry says he met with city officials, who explained to him that budget constraints were leading them toward imposing a new fee. "The city has  budget constraints, and we recognized that," Perry says. "But they seem to fail to see that there are budgetary constraints for businesses too." 

On Thursday, The Oregonian reported that Hales and Novick may refer a change to the city charter that would attempt to ensure that the transportation fee be dedicated to transportation projects and not spent on anything else. Perry calls that idea "disingenuous."

"They'd like to use that kind of vote to show there's support for this fee, but my non-scientific view is there is widespread opposition from citizens, businesses and non-profits," Perry says. "If they put this fee to a vote of the people, I think they know it would get shot down in a heartbeat."

Perry says it's too early to say whether his group would participate in an attempt to refer the fee to the November ballot for a vote, but a number of groups with the heft to fund a referral are planning to gather next week to begin discussions.

"I hope the city will consider its position," Perry says. "What they are proposing is just too much."
 
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