January 14th, 2008 5:33 pm | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, City Hall

Updated: Games Begin on Portland's Street Tax


There's a new wrinkle in City Commissioner Sam Adams' proposal to implement a 15-year, $464 million street maintenance tax on Portland residents and businesses.

Opponents of the tax have said they would try to gather the 18,000-plus signatures required to refer the measure to voters. And perhaps in response to that threat from foes represented by powerhouse lobbyists Paul Romain and Mark Nelson, Adams late Friday filed new paperwork, splitting what had been a single resolution into three separate resolutions.

The maneuver will require each separate resoultion to get a first reading this week, rather than a final vote, as had been scheduled (council approved the first reading 5-0 on Jan. 9).

That delay, however, is probably less important to Adams than what he accomplishes by splitting the resolution into three: with the stroke of a pen, he has made gathering signatures for referral three times more difficult. Now, instead of needing to get one signature, opponents must get three. That means explaining the perils of all three and, presumably, paying the equivalent of a couple bucks or more per signature—the estimated cost of gathering signatures—and doing it in the 30 days allotted by code.

Opponents of the tax, who include local convenience stores, gas stations and fast food say the tax calcuations are unpredictable and favor larger stores over smaller stores. (Adams says in response that large stores that sell a variety of goods from food to furniture, actually reduce the number of trips drivers make and thus deserve a discounted rate under the measure, which aims to encourage conservation as well as fix the city's deteriorating streets.)


Adams told WWire late this morning that he plans to address two of his opponents' criticisms: he will make the proposed annual increase of 3.5 percent in the tax instand the maximum allowable increase and would agree to a "clawback" whereby the tax is reduced by whatever new receipts the city receives from a potential state-wide gas tas.

As for the more pressing question of the mutliplying resolutions, Adams explains that he decided to split the original proposal into three out of concern that opponents might challenge the legality of his measure based on the "single subject" theory, that has sidelined state-wide ballot measures in the past. The theory holds that a new law must only make one change at a time and since there are three categories of payor, Adams would treat each one as a separate law.

"The City Attorney's office said they felt confident that they could defend any 'signal subject' challenge," Adams says. "But to make it absoutely watertight, you break it into three."

Paul Romain dismissed Adams' ploy as "political games." Romain says that in his experience, the single subject rule applies only to changes to the state constitution, not to legislative bills or muncipal resolutions. "The object of the game would be to attempt to make it more difficult to refer," Romain says. "It's the only possible reason to do so."

Romain says he's encouraged to hear the Adams is addressing his clients concerns about annual increases and a state-wide tax but still plans referral, which he says shouldn't cost much more for three measures than for one.

"This doesn't change our plans [to seek referral] at all," Romain says.
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