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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Adams Okays 30-day Armistice with TriMet on Youth Passes

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Jun 27, 2012 at 1:14 PM

TriMet is still prepared to honor a handshake cost-sharing agreement.
It was a handshake deal. But the terms, as Mayor Sam Adams saw them, were pretty clear. The city wouldn't raise a stink over TriMet's decision to cancel free light-rail trips downtown—so long as the transit agency used the money to keep alive another of Adams' top priorities: free bus and rail trips for high school kids for the academic year that starts this fall.

TriMet didn't quite hold up that bargain in its most recent budget, and so Adams decided to get its board's attention. He pitched a surprise plan that called for raising permit fees for TriMet some 8,000 percent—raising $2 million bucks that he'd then hand back to keep the YouthPass program alive.

Adams' gambit worked. Today, during a scheduled council vote on the fee hike, TriMet's board chairman, Bruce Warner, and others showed up and asked for a 30-day window to reopen discussions. They said they couldn't afford the fee increase—without cutting service even further than they already have, they claim—but offered to re-examine the original handshake deal.

TriMet is "still prepared to honor what I thought was a cost-sharing agreement"—a deal that would have split the $3.5 million cost of the program between school districts, TriMet, and the city, Warner told the council. "If the student pass program is really the issue, please defer this entire ordinance for 30 days to allow us to talk through with your staff, and with you, the mayor, how we can come up with a true agreement."

Adams, along with the rest of council, agreed.

"The reason I have felt compelled to be as hardheaded on this as I have been," he said, was because "I didn't see this in the budget. You took the resources [from canceling the free-rail zone] but you didn't do the second part of the handshake agreement. I'm willing to take 30 days and set this over and talk seriously about this."

The fee hike plan won't come back to council until July 25. It's the second big hammer the city threatened to drop today, only to hold back for more discussion. Asked whether this was a day of "delaying action," Randy Leonard told me it was more about using sticks before carrots: "motivating people" to do "problem-solving."

The YouthPass program, as we reported this spring, has long been a source of tension between Adams and TriMet. The program had received most of its funding—$2.55 million—from state energy tax credits, with Portland Public Schools paying the other $1 million. That worked until the state, facing its own budget mess, pulled the plug. When TriMet wanted to cancel the program for the school year that just ended, Adams lobbied them to keep it alive.

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