Portland, Ore. Voters Will Be Asked to Reauthorize Gas Tax in May 2020

Originally approved by 52 percent of voters in May 2016, the 4-year, 10 cents per gallon city gas tax has outperformed revenue projections. Funds are split between road maintenance and bike and pedestrian projects.

2 minute read

March 30, 2019, 7:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid


Portland, Oregon

JPL Designs / Shutterstock

"Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said [March 20] that she plans to send a 10-cent gas tax back to voters in May 2020," reported Andrew Theen for The Oregonian. Eudaly, who also oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation, made the announcement during the City Council’s first annual briefing on the 2016 voter-approved gas tax.

The announcement comes as the city is just hitting the halfway mark on its four-year gas tax, but transportation officials say the funding scheme has already and consistently overperformed the city’s initial revenue projections... Portland has collected $39 million in gas tax money so far, $7 million more than initially estimated.

The majority of the gas tax revenue, 56 percent, goes to street maintenance projects while the remainder is spent on pedestrian or bicycle safety.

Constitutional restrictions prevent revenue from being spent on public transit, emailed Elliot Njus, commuting and transportation reporter for The Oregonian.

The May 17, 2016, Measure 26-173 Motor Vehicles Fuels Tax (also see Ballotpedia: Temporary fuel tax referendum: Resolution 37185was sponsored by then-Portland Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick, "who was running for re-election to his council seat on the same ballot," reported Njus on May 18, 2016. 

"If that passes, I'm going to be ecstatic," Novick said earlier Tuesday night, as his own race appeared headed to a runoff election. "If I had to choose between the gas tax and going to November myself, I would choose the gas tax anytime."

Sadly for Novick, the choice was made for him in the following November election, but no doubt he is pleased that his successor, Eudaly, is continuing his legacy in having city motorists pay for street maintenance and bike and pedestrian safety and infrastructure improvements. Oregon cyclists also directly pay for the latter when they purchase bicycles and pay the nation's first and only state bicycle excise tax, thanks to the passage of HB 2017.

Portland's truck tax

Theen also reports on the Portland Heavy Vehicle Use Tax that applies to companies that pay the Oregon Weight-Mile Tax. It was approved by the City Council on May 11, 2016, to show voters that heavy trucks, which disproportionately contribute to road wear, would also pay toward road upkeep. Despite the "fuel tax" name in the ballot measure, only gasoline is taxed. 

Revenues are lower than initially projected after the city council bowed to industry pressure, resulting in fewer vehicles paying the fee, reported Gordon R. Friedman for The Oregonian on Nov. 27, 2018.

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