Monday, January 28, 2013

Legislative Update Presession 3 - The CRC Octopus

This week House bills got referred to committee, but otherwise there was no meaningful activity. (Points to Senate President Courtney for earliest referrals!)

Here are the bullets.  Below them is a longer bit on the giant Columbia River Crossing bill.
  •  House Joint Resolution 9 -"Proposes amendment to Oregon Constitution to allow revenue from taxes on motor vehicle fuel and ownership, operation or use of motor vehicles to be used for transportation projects that will prevent or reduce pollution and congestion created by use of motor vehicles." Referred to Transportation and Economic Development committee.
  • House Bill 2453 - "Requires persons operating certain high-mileage motor vehicles to pay per-mile road usage charge or flat annual road usage charge." It's a hot potato! Referred to Transportation and Economic Development with subsequent referral to Revenue, then Ways and Means.
  • House Bill 2500 looks to expand the "types of costs that qualify as approved transportation costs for purposes of State School Fund distributions."  These would include "Expenditures made to improve  safety for students traveling to school by means that are not provided by the school district and that:
    (i) Include walking or using a bicycle, scooter, skateboard or similar device..." Referred to Education with subsequent referral to Revenue, then Ways and Means.
  • Senate Bill 9 filed by Senator Courtney would "increase the penalty [for using a cel phone while driving] from a Class D violation to a Class B violation, which means the maximum fine would increase from $250 to $1,000. The minimum fine would increase from $60 to $130." After first reading it was assigned to the Judiciary Committee.
  • Senate Bill 247 would use lottery funds and creates an "Alternative Mode Transportation Fund. Requires that nine percent of net proceeds from Oregon State Lottery be deposited in Multimodal Transportation Fund, and that nine percent of net proceeds be deposited in Alternative Mode Transportation Fund. Continuously appropriates moneys in Alternative Mode Transportation Fund to Department of Transportation. Provides that moneys may only be used for capital improvements and operational costs of mass transit, passenger rail, bicycle and pedestrian projects."  After first reading it was referred to Business and Transportation, then Ways and Means Committee.
  • Senate Bill 332 would establish a "Task  Force  on  Bicycle  Safety."  Senator Jackie Winters proposed this, and the bill as introduced is mostly procedural and otherwise content-free at the moment.  After first reading it was referred to Business and Transportation, then Ways and Means Committee.
Standard Oil Monopoly, 1904. Detail:   Library of Congress
Naturally enough there's starting to be some chatter about the CRC bill, House Bill 2260.

It would declare "that it is in state’s interest to undertake Interstate 5 bridge replacement program. Enacts provisions relating to tolls for program. Specifies borrowing authority of Department of Transportation for program." This isn't specifically about bikes, of course, but the CRC has tremendous implications for the Salem River Crossing and all state transportation projects, as its budget would have cascading effects on the budget for other projects. Last week it was referred to Transportation and Economic Development with subsequent referral to Ways and Means.

Here's the best comment on HB 2260 I've seen circulating among transportation folks so far (and it in turn quotes a third person - hopefully the type faces and indentation will make the separate authorship clear):
The 2013 Oregon legislative session is about to start, and I have been hearing that not much will be done around transportation until the issue of the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) is resolved. I'm not tracking all the details, and perhaps others can help. But what I am hearing is that the plan is to raise gas taxes and/or vehicle registration fees to bring in almost $1 billion in new revenues over 20 years. Then half of these new revenues will be "bonded" for a $450 million down payment on the CRC; the other half will be spread around the rest of the state, as the phrase goes, like peanut butter.

Into this mix comes House Bill 2260, introduced at the request of Governor John A. Kitzhaber, M.D. According to one source:

This bill, by itself, gives ODOT essentially unlimited authority to borrow as much as it wants for CRC, and pay bonds back from any combination of toll revenues, future gas tax receipts and federal grants.

While they may yet seek a tax or fee increase for CRC, they would not need to do so in order to get the project started if this bill becomes law.

Among its features:
    • It renames the CRC as the "Interstate 5 Bridge Replacement Program." (Sec. 2)
    • It declares "in the interests of this state" to undertake the CRC.
    • It defines the CRC as a multimodal project between SR 500 in WA, and Victory Blvd in OR.
    • It authorizes ODOT to acquire property in Washington State (Sec. 3)
    • It authorizes ODOT to issue unlimited "short term" borrowings for CRC, and specifically waives the statutory limit on such borrowings (Sec. 10). (Short term borrowings would be refinanced by long-term borrowings.)
    • It authorizes ODOT to issue long-term general obligation bonds and revenue bonds without limit and waives the statutory (and purports to waive the constitutional) limits on bond issuance (Sec. 11).
    • It allows ODOT to lend the proceeds of these bonds to private entities (Sec. 11).
    • It authorizes ODOT to pledge, without limit, state gas tax revenues and future federal grants to repay toll bonds (Sec 13).
As I read these provisions, ODOT could issue as much debt as it wanted, up to the full cost of the project (say $3.5 billion), and pledge some combination of toll revenues, future gas taxes and federal revenues to repay the cost of the project. It would need no further legislation. Strikingly, the bill specifically waives the statutory process that the Legislature put in place (following the Veterans Home Loan Bond Fiasco of the 1970s), that require specific legislative authorization of amounts of debt issuance ("the bond budget").

Of course, absent a tax or fee increase, repaying these bonds would severely reduce the funds available to ODOT for other capital construction around the state.

Meanwhile, I also hear that the Oregon Transportation Commission gave ODOT the go head to proceed with the Pioneer Mountain-Eddyville project, whose estimated cost has risen from $140 million to $300 million to now roughly $400 million.
The "peanut butter" provision is interesting.  It looks like pork-flavored icing, more likely!  Spread around the state it could make the CRC more palatable outside the Portland Metro! 

The bill looks big, a bit of a monster, and will require great scrutiny and protest from many quarters. 

The regular session kicks off on February 4th and all of this year's legislative updates are tagged 2013 Legislative Session.


Anonymous said...

The SJ has a front page piece today on studded tires! House Bills 2277, 2278, and 2397 would add fees to offset the damage studded tires cause.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...



BikePortland on the CRC bill and Willamette Week.

Anonymous said...

HB 2732 would create the offence of wearing headphones while biking, and also carve out new permission for a moped to use a multi-use path.

Anonymous said...

WWeek has a note on another CRC bill -

HB 2800 -

Anonymous said...

And Greenlick's curb on CRC spending -