City Commissioner Steve Novick is ready to talk some more about the Portland street fee.
The architect of the much-maligned plan to raise at least $40 million a year for road repairs will take questions at noon today at a Portland City Club forum in the Governor Hotel.
Novick has been earnestly arguing for the $144-a-household fee over the past few weeks, despite a public outcry that it would penalize the poor and small businesses. After he and Mayor Charlie Hales put the plan on hold for five months, Novick said he’d be willing to revisit other, less regressive funding options—like a sales tax or an income tax.
Novick’s last public speech on the fee was May 29, in a nearly six-hour hearing where people begged and screamed at him. He’s likely to have some new ideas—but expect at least one Casablanca reference and an unwavering contention that citizens need to pay up for a billon-dollar paving and safety backlog.
Here are 10 of his boldest points from May 29 that he is likely to repeat:
• "Bill Clinton was thrown out as governor of Arkansas in 1980 because he raised registration fees. But the mayor gave me oversight of the Bureau of Transportation that made me think I should do something about these safety issues. I would rather try to solve these problems and lose the next election than not try to solve them and win it."
• "So this morning I emailed Steve Townsend, our chief engineer, and said, 'Is it an exaggeration to say that given the path we’re on, in 20-30 years, we will have the streets of a third world city?' And he responded, 'That is not an exaggeration. That is the path we are on.'”
• "The point we’re trying to make is that it costs hundreds of dollars a month to maintain your car, in terms of gas taxes and regulation fees…and your car isn’t worth much without a road. So we kind of think that, compared to a car, although the roads are expensive, they’re a relative bargain."
• "All it would take is a few disgruntled rich people — none of the nice rich people I know — to raise money to prefer a ballot and defeat it… So we’re faced with the prospect that if we send this to voters we could run an election on street fees and maybe we win but maybe we lose."
• "The [Institute of Transportation Engineers] manual treats parking lots as things that don’t generate trips. There are parking lots that have employees. There certainly are trips that employees themselves take. We want to modify the ITE’s approach and recognize that there are a few people who take trips and take that into account."
• "So all other cities have adopted street fees. And as the mayor said, as far as we know, all of them did it by a council vote, they didn’t send it out for public vote. I know the answer for at least 20 of them, there’s another eight where I don’t know the answer, but for all the ones I know the answer for, they did it without a public vote."
• "People want the problem to be solved and the problem has to be solved, but there’s no popular way to solve the problem. So the elected officials have to bite the bullet and make the tough choice."
• "We thought that the business community was on board with the method we had for calculating the business fee… What I discovered, especially reading emails from small business owners this week, is that there are a lot of business people who weren’t part of that discussion in 2007."
• "We considered the possibility of completely exempting low income people from the fee. The problem is…if you are exempting people based on income, then the courts will say it’s not a fee, it’s a tax, and you get into the issues you had with the arts tax where you have to exempt people on PERS, etc."
• "I don’t like the regressivity of having a fee, but it will be spent in a progressive way, because much of the spending will be in the lowest income parts of the city."