Mayor Charlie Hales Will Ask Portland Voters to Pick Their Favorite Street Fee in May Advisory Vote

Unable to find a workable version of the Portland street fee after a year of trying, Mayor Charlie Hales is asking Portland voters to recommend one.

The mayor's office this afternoon announced it will place three to six transportation funding options on the May 2015 ballot for a public advisory vote.

"We will ask the voters to pick from the array of funding options," Hales says in a press release, "and we'll adopt the one with the most 'yes' votes."

The options for a fee on households will likely include an increased gas tax, an income tax with a higher burden on the rich, and a local-option property tax levy. Hales staffers tell WW the mayor hasn't decided how many options will be on the ballot. 

"I like it," City Commissioner Steve Novick tells WW.

Novick adds in a statement: "This gives people an opportunity to campaign for their favorite options. For example, Messrs. Robert McCullough and Eric Fruits can campaign for their favorite, the gas tax. The Oregonian editorial board can campaign for its favorite, the property tax. The progressive groups, such as AARP, Oregon Walks, and the Coalition for a Livable Future, can campaign for their favorite – and my favorite too – a progressive income tax."

Advisory votes are uncommon in Oregon—in fact, Portland may have never held one before. They are generally unpopular, because they're not binding: That is, they seek the advice of the voters without requiring governments to follow it.

Even if City Council passes the most popular version of the street fee, opponents could still refer it back to ballot in hopes of defeating it.

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz announced on Monday she wouldn't support Hales and Novick's latest version of the residential fee—essentially blocking it from getting out of City Hall.

Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish have said they wouldn't support a street fee without a public vote. Neither have yet said whether an advisory vote counts.

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