City Commissioner Steve Novick wrote a mass email this week to employees at the Portland Bureau of Transportation, reasserting his commitment to raising $50 million a year for road repair with a "street fee."
In the July 7 email, Novick pledges his dedication to finding new money by quoting Winston Churchill's 1940 speech to the British House of Commons vowing to defeat Nazi Germany.
"'We shall fight on the beaches," Novick writes, "'we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender,' until we have won the additional resources you need."
Novick admits elswhere in his email that World War II may not be the most apt analogy for a political exercise: "I realize that's not a particularly appropriate quote, but it's so inspiring," he writes.
He goes on to explain that city officials will create more comprehensive lists of what the "street fee" would fund, and offer more information to the public about how current budgets are spent.
The email comes a month after Novick and Mayor Charlie Hales delayed a City Council vote on the street fee, which would charge Portland households $144 a year and businesses much more. Since then, Novick has been on a goodwill tour explaining the plan to media and the public.
This is the second time Novick has used World War II analogies in making his case for the fee. In June, he responded to City Commissioner Nick Fish's questions about taxing poor people with a letter addressed, "Dear Captain Renault"—a reference to the corrupt military police officer in Casablanca who was "shocked, shocked" to discover gambling at Rick's bar.
Read WW's interview with Novick about his plans to pass the street fee here.
The full text of Novick's letter to PBOT staff is below (bolding and italics are his).
Dear colleagues, I just wanted to drop you a note on the street fee discussion. I know it must have been frustrating to see City Council come right up to the brink of approving a new funding mechanism, and then step back. What I want you to know is that the Mayor and I are not giving up. We may have setbacks or make mistakes along the way. But we know how important it is to give you the resources you need to address the Cityâs transportation maintenance and safety needs. You do a wonderful job with what you have â but you donât have nearly enough. We know that; we know it to the marrow of our bones. And, to quote Winston Churchill, âWe shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender,â until we have won the additional resources you need. (I realize thatâs not a particularly appropriate quote, but itâs so inspiring.) Less poetically, we are moving ahead with some citizen working groups that will hopefully reach some consensus on issues that have yet to be resolved. A business working group will look at ways to refine the business side of the fee â or replace it, in whole or in part, with something like an increased business profits tax or a gross receipts tax. Another working group will look at the question of whether we can ensure that all low-income people would, practically speaking, be able to take advantage of any low-income discount we have. Meanwhile, our Needs and Funding Advisory Committee â which we first convened in January â will work with staff to develop a longer list of specific safety projects that we would take on in the first couple of years. In the meantime, we are working to put some more information up on the web site, in easily readable form, to answer some of the questions we hear most often from the public and the media: Whereâs the list of your maintenance needs? Whereâs the comprehensive list of the safety needs? How do you spend your money today? (We have a good two-pager on that already, but we can provide more detail.) Leah and I will send out periodic updates along the way. For now, I mostly just wanted you to know that we â¦ are â¦ not â¦ giving â¦ up!!! All my best, Steve