Thursday, May 16, 2013

Proposed Streetlight Fee Shows City Knows Driving in Decline; USA Today Says "Just Raise Gas Tax"

Back in February, City Council adopted a legislative position against any statewide increase in the gas tax, and they are instead trying to raise revenue by a proposed local utility fee.  But as they argue for the utility fee, they have to admit that driving is in decline.  Will they align this position with their position on bridge traffic?  Something's gotta give!

Interestingly, just a couple of days ago, USA Today came out with a strong editorial in favor of raising the gas tax.
Gas taxes are not perfect. Unlike transponders, they don't allow for peak-hour pricing to reduce congestion. And, as many states have figured out, they raise less money when people buy more efficient cars.

But they have the great virtue of being uncomplicated and fair. The people who pay the most gas tax are those who drive the most and use the most gas. Makes sense to us.... is best to keep things simple.

And the simplest, fairest and least invasive way to respond to lower gas tax revenue is with higher gas taxes.
The State is monkeying with House Bill 2453, which would add a mileage fee for owners of electric cars and other high-mileage vehicles.

Meanwhile, as Curt pointed out in a comment, the City's argument for adding a fee to utility bills to pay for street lights is revealing.

Slides from Staff Presentation
The City has been talking about this for at least a couple of years.  It first hit the blog during the Sustainable Cities Initiative.

In its current proposal, it would add a monthly fee like this:

The fees would collect nearly $2M a year
The reason for it is that gas tax and other state highway revenues are down:

Revenue is down because we are driving less
While City and Rivercrossing Staff disparage observations about declining bridge traffic, on the revenue side they seem to accept the fact that we're driving less!

Hypocrisy might be too strong a word, but the inconsistency is certainly striking.

Maybe it's time to reconsider the gas tax?  There are many reasons to support an increase in the gas tax, and for a mainstream publication like USA Today to embrace an increase is a sign of some traction.

An increase would be part of a strategy for climate change, as well.  Initial reports were that the monitoring station in Hawaii last week reached 400ppm of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, a symbolic threshold that shows just how bad things have got. The reading has since been revised downward to 399.89ppm. Whatever. It's gonna break 400 this summer.

"A Great Bridge will Lead us to Awesome Prosperity"
Landsberger Collection
Locally, If the City's not going to double-down on decline denialism, they should stop screwing around and turn to rational transportation planning that accommodates real change in mobility patterns.


Jim Scheppke said...

The City is shopping this around at neighborhood association meetings this month. I have heard their pitch several times. The NAs have been somewhat supportive. If the City goes through with this, at a minimum they need to make it less regressive. As the table you show indicates, under the City's proposal, Lancaster Mall and the State Capitol and Salem Hospital would pay $13.50 a month, and you and I would pay $2.80 a month. Is that fair? I think it's ridiculously unfair.

Carole Smith said...

I don't know if you are watching (or care) about parking meters downtown, but you might be interested in why, and how, the city is doing this. It's not so much the subject, but the method, you may find objectionable.

Instead of making a case for why the city needs to have more revenue, and justifying it's needs, the city just wants more money with no justification or proof at all. The attitude, and feeling of entitlement, are shocking.

If you have a hour and 17 minutes to watch the Statesman Editorial Board joust with the City Manager and (I am ashamed to say it) Mayor, it's worth it for the entertainment value alone. Here is the link:

The city wants to install parking meters on-street to collect more revenue to maintain the garages. The revenue problem is in the garages - but the city wants to leave the garages free, and make the customers who never use the garages pay. Whacky logic at best.

The large department stores, with out of town owners, who pay between $46,000 - $18,000 a year in parking tax now, will NOT pay any parking tax at all - and they will still be connected to the parking garages so their customers can still park free for as long as they want, while customers of the small, locally owned businesses, whose never use the parking garages, will HAVE to pay all the costs of the parking garages through their parking meter fees. Upside down.

Even if you are anti-car and anti-parking you have to see this plan by the city is ass backward regarding who pays for what.

Hope you enjoy the show (Editorial Board interview).


Curt said...

I agree it was entertaining. It was entertaining watching well informed city employees, councilors and downtown business owners armed with facts and a refreshingly mature and sophisticated understanding of the economics of parking embarrass the underprepared and overmatched Dick Hughes. Hughes and Co. had only one response--ARCHBURGER! Because the Archburger failed when the McDonalds brain trust was convinced by all their research that it would succeed--in Hughes' world that means evidence based decision making cannot be trusted. I guess we need a bridge because we need a bridge and we can't have parking meters, because we can't have parking meters.

Linda Norris even referenced The High Cost Of Free Parking! Downtown should pay close attention to Ch. 19-The Ideal Source of Local Public Revenue. This is about revenue and who pays. For the SJ ed. board the answer is clear--anyone but the user.

Anonymous said...

The Statesman Editorial Board is an embarrassment to the city.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the note, Carole! Of course, parking is of great interest. Here are tags for the main posts on the downtown parking task force and north broadway parking study.

I'm going to copy your comment and curt's to this post on downtown parking and reply over there, probably over the weekend. It's an important topic!

(That way we can keep this thread for the streetlight fee, and keep the parking talk on a parking post!)