Street Fee Opponents Pledge to Send Portland City Hall's Transportation Fund to the Voters

It no longer matters what City Hall comes up with for a street fee to fund transportation projects: An opposition group tells WW it will circulate petitions to force the proposal to the ballot.

Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick's ever-shifting plan would raise $46 million a year to pay for road repairs and maintenance. Hales and Novick say the city is way behind in keeping up the city's streets and needs to raise additional revenue catch up. Both have been looking for ways to avoid putting the plan before voters.

Hair salon owner Ann Sanderson, who leads a coalition of small-business owners and activists called Stop Portland Street Fee, tells WW that City Hall is trying to make prominent interest groups happy.

But she says those changes are making the proposal worse—so her group has started marshaling its volunteers to collect signatures.

“It will go on the ballot,” Sanderson says. “We’re not waiting to find out if the Portland Business Alliance is going to be on one side or the other.”

On Dec. 29, Novick unveiled his latest version of the street fee, based on household income and estimated gasoline consumption. He’s also talking about proposing an income tax.

It's not clear where the Stop Portland Street Fee group will get its money.

The Tigard-based conservative group Taxpayers Association of Oregon has already funded an anti-street fee mailer. Petroleum lobbyist Paul Romain tells WW his clients have not yet made a decision on whether to back a voter referral. And the PBA—the city's chamber of commerce—said Monday it is happier with Novick's latest proposal, an income tax plan he floated last month. 

Robert McCullough, who oversees the neighborhood coalition Southeast Uplift and has battled transportation officials for street-fee documents, says opposition is strong in the city's neighborhood associations—the power blocs of Portland politics.

"We don't have to pay our canvassers," McCullough tells WW. "If you anger enough people, you're going to have an initiative in a heartbeat."