Just in Time for the CRC: State Will Have New Debt Capacity

Treasurer's report says funding available for highway project

When the Legislature convenes on Feb. 4, one of the first orders of business will be an attempt to find $450 million to fund Oregon's down-payment on the proposed $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing project.

There are different theories funding about how House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland), the Legislature's biggest backer of the CRC, will suggest paying that tab.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has outlined some options, including hiking the gas tax; raising vehicle registration and title fees. ODOT itself is tapped out, having borrowed nearly $2 billion for a series of highway and bridge projects over the past decade.

Today, State Treasurer Ted Wheeler provided some hope for CRC boosters.

Wheeler's State Debt Policy Advisory Committee provides each Legislature with a report on the state's ability to borrow and in currently that borrowing ability. The commission tries to limit debt to 5 percent of general fund revenues, and it's currently maxed out. That means the state has little or no capacity to borrow new money until the end of the current fiscal year, June 30.

But due to low interest rates and the repayment of existing debt, the Debt Advisory Committee says the state will have lots of capacity starting July 1.

In a 96-page accompanying report, there are a couple of interesting notes:

First, the state has the ability to issue up to $4.3 billion in general obligation highway bonds. None of that capacity is currently being used. And second, Wheeler's committee has identified those highway bonds as an excellent tool for funding the CRC.