This morning, Portland City Council will consider the 2024-2028 gas tax renewal, determining whether or not the 10-cent gas tax for light vehicles will be on the city ballot this May. The gas tax program, dubbed "Fixing Our Streets," is critical for funding Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) street maintenance projects. In 2024, the stakes for renewing the measure are higher than ever. 

Portlanders first approved the Fixing Our Streets tax in 2016, and the program was renewed in 2020, generating about $150 million for PBOT services in eight years. Fixing Our Streets has funded services including street repaving projects, new signal and beacon installation, sidewalk construction, Safe Routes to School programming, and more. According to PBOT, the investments in pavement maintenance have saved the city "hundreds of millions in potential future road reconstruction." 

PBOT currently faces a $32 million budget shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year: a financial future that would mean the end of many of the bureau's most popular programs, as well as some of its crucial maintenance work and dozens of jobs. Though leaders at the transportation bureau have reason to hope a lifeline from the very well-funded Portland Clean Energy Fund is on its way, the prognosis is still relatively grim. Renewing the Fixing Our Streets tax is necessary to stave off catastrophe. 

Given the program's importance, the current gas tax proposal spent some time in the incubator before PBOT Commissioner Mingus Mapps introduced it in December. If renewed by voters, PBOT expects the gas tax will rake in about $75 million from 2024-2028, which the bureau will divvy up in three equal parts to fund smoother streets projects (primarily paving busy and neighborhood streets), safer streets projects (building infrastructure to improve safety, like installing traffic lights and creating neighborhood greenways), and community street services (filling potholes, bike lane upgrades, traffic signal and lighting maintenance, and more). 

"We need Fixing Our Streets to help address critical maintenance needs such as paving our streets and filling potholes," Mapps said at a December press conference about the proposal. "We need Fixing Our Streets to address safety needs that can save lives... That's why I'm so excited to bring this program to City Council. I am confident and hopeful that they will strongly endorse this and send it to voters for the May election." 

Part of the reason PBOT's current financial outlook is so dire is because last spring, City Council voted to reduce a 40-cent parking fee increase, which the bureau had been banking on to raise $24 million over five years. Though Mayor Ted Wheeler wanted to eliminate the increase entirely, citing declining activity in downtown Portland, Mapps worked out a compromise to increase the parking fee by only 20 cents.

The saga raised concerns about the current council's resistance to taxing Portlanders. But considering the Fixing Our Streets measure passed with 77 percent of the vote in 2020, there's good reason to believe the public is fond of the program. 

The gas tax renewal has strong support from community transportation advocates and members of PBOT's advisory committees.

"In the face of Portland's worst traffic fatality numbers in four decades, and given the disproportionate risks to pedestrians and the unhoused, especially in East Portland, the city's shortfall in transportation funding isn't just a budget issue—it's an urgent public safety emergency calling for immediate action," Sarah Iannarone, Executive Director of The Street Trust, said in a PBOT press release. "It's important that voters support this stopgap effort even as we all work to find more sustainable long-term solutions for funding safe streets in our city."

A draft letter to City Council from the PBOT Budget Advisory Committee strongly urges the council to approve the proposal. 

"Without this funding, PBOT would face considerable budget deficits, leading to inevitable service reductions. This would not only hinder our progress in improving road safety and maintenance but also adversely affect the well-being and safety of Portland's residents," the letter states. "Renewing the Fixing Our Streets gas tax is not merely a fiscal decision; it is a reaffirmation of our commitment as a community to prioritize safety, accessibility and the proactive upkeep of our city's roads and transport systems."

City Council will also consider extending the 10 cent heavy vehicle use tax for another four years at today's meeting. This tax would not need to be referred to voters and would generate another $10.5 million from 2024-2028. 

You can read the full 2024-2028 Fixing Our Streets draft proposal here. City Council is expected to hear testimony and cast a vote about the gas tax and heavy vehicle use tax beginning at 9:45 this morning.