Taxpayers aren't the only ones footing the bill for a recent telephone survey that seemed to magically unearth support for higher income taxes to pay for Portland roads—a plan previously dismissed as unfeasible.
At least one local labor union confirms it's arranged to kick in $1,000 for the $16,500 survey commissioned by Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick last month.
The City of Portland Professional Employees Association (COPPEA) The Professional Technical Employees Local 17, COPPEA Chapter had discussed helping fund the effort before Novick paid for the late June poll, says union rep Amy Bowles, but hadn't formalized the arrangement until this week. The union represents 132 Portland Bureau of Transportation employees.
"As far as we’re concerned, it’s because we represent PBOT members," Bowles said on Monday. "We want a stable funding source."
Laborers' Local 483 has also talked about chipping in, though it's unclear if those arrangements have been made. Scott Gibson, former union president and current board member, says the labor group supports "looking at a more progressive way" to fund road improvements, so showed interest when Novick asked. He wasn't sure if anything ever came of it, though, and calls to the union's president and business manager have not been returned.
The June poll found fairly robust support for upping the income tax of wealthier Portlanders—those with salaries of $125,000 a year and up—by 1-3 percent. Roughly 60 percent of those surveyed supported such a plan, which officials said could raise more than $50 million a year. Participants were evenly split on another proposal that would have taxed Portlanders making under $100,000 by .25 percent.
Those findings run contrary to a $28,000 survey released by Novick this spring, which said 52 percent of Portlanders support an $8 a month flat fee to pay for the city's roads, and found far less support for tax increases.
Novick and Mayor Charlie Hales have used that first poll to justify putting forward a flat fee that would be assessed on many Portlanders, along with a sliding scale charge for businesses. But similar proposals have failed twice since 2000, and outrage quickly fomented around the "transportation user fee" proposal, causing Hales and Novick to regroup. Three separate workgroups are looking into the matter, and there are plans to have a proposal before city council later this year.
Neither Hales nor Novick has formally supported the tax-the-rich idea that suddenly seems so palatable to Portlanders.
The mayor "has said all along and continues to believe that he’s not a particular fan of a street fee," Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, tells the Mercury. "We haven't been able to find a better way to do it. If in fact we found that there's a better mechanism out there and it’s popular enough to pass, hallelujah."
Current estimates suggest Portland's roads would need more than $90 million in repairs each year for a decade to catch up on deferred maintenance.