Murmurs: Who Wants to Pay a Tax on Miles Driven? No? How About a Weed Tax?

In other news: Portland City Hall can almost taste those weed-tax dollars.

Mileage Tax Recruits Few Guinea Pigs

Last July, the Oregon Department of Transportation started a pilot program called OReGO to test the idea of a state tax on miles driven—a tax in which Oregonians driving fuel-efficient vehicles would pay more than they do in gas tax while those driving fuel-inefficient vehicles would pay less ("Paying by the Mile," WW, June 30, 2015). The idea was to replace the state gas tax, which is in long-term decline. Jim Whitty, who spent more than a decade researching and marketing OReGO around the world on ODOT money, told WW at the time that "guilt" might be the sole incentive for owners of fuel-efficient cars to sign up for OReGO. He hoped 5,000 Oregonians would sign up for a trial run of the program, paying per mile traveled and receiving a credit for gas taxes paid. But apparently, guilt hasn't been enough. As of June 1, only 891 people were enrolled in OReGO, according to ODOT's Michelle Godfrey, and all four businesses that enrolled also happen to be registered as contractors with ODOT. "Our current numbers are more than adequate to fully test the OReGO system," Godfrey says. Meanwhile, Whitty retired from ODOT to join D'Artagnan Consulting, an ODOT contractor. Agency rules bar him from doing business with ODOT for 12 months.

Portland City Hall Imagines Weed Windfall

The Portland City Council is likely June 22 to refer a 3 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana to the November ballot. But commissioners and the mayor do not yet agree how they'll spend the estimated $3 million to $5 million a year the tax would generate. Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who's leading the effort, would like the money to go to several projects, including drug and alcohol treatment services, DUII police training and enforcement, street infrastructure, and programs to help people held back financially and professionally by past pot convictions. Her colleagues have other ideas. Mayor Charlie Hales would like more money to pay for raises for police officers to improve recruitment and retention. Commissioner Steve Novick says he'd like to spend some of the money addressing air toxins. "My argument would be that whatever the benefits of marijuana, smoking isn't great for your lungs, so we should spend some of the money on lung protection," Novick says. "Although I guess edibles sellers would then say they have nothing to do with lungs."

WW Garners Northwest Journalism Awards

Willamette Week won nine awards in the Society of Professional Journalists Region 10 Northwest Excellence in Journalism contest. Competing against non-daily newspapers in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, WW took first place for Nigel Jaquiss' spot news reporting on former Gov. John Kitzhaber ("Climate, Changed," WW, Feb. 3, 2015) and Leah Sottile's personalities reporting on refugees arriving in Oregon ("The Newest Portlanders," WW, Sept. 30, 2015).

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