Friday, June 14, 2019

City Council, June 17th - Just Raise the Gas Tax Already!

As we consider a Climate Action Plan and the initial assessment that 55% of the city's greenhouse gas pollution come from transportation, it is curious that Council has, at least for the moment, decided to pass on a local gas tax.

Council meets on Monday for a formal Work Session on new revenue, and they'll be discussing an operating fee and an employee-paid payroll tax only.

In a very general way, it seems like we are badly missing on the notion that we should tax things we want less of and reduce taxes on things we want more of.

Others will have more to say on the operating fee and payroll tax.

And maybe after Cap and Invest is settled at the Legislature, a path to a local gas tax devoted to climate action on transportation will be clearer.

There's a "hockey stick" spike for you - via Twitter

Leslie Venti's brother, Jason Box, in the news
As a footnote on greenhouse gas pollution and climate, Greenland is in the news, and in a bad way. This is far afield, and ordinarily wouldn't be noticed here, but you may recall a local connection.

Jason Box in Esquire (2015) - via Twitter


Sarah Owens said...

They skipped the gas tax (for now) because the City Manager basically asked them to at the last meeting, saying he needed them to focus on the General Fund, which is what has him worried.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the update!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Over on FB a commenter writes:

"This will not get people out of cars and will hit low income people the hardest. Revenues from gas taxes can only be used on roads, so how does that help anything?"

1. Saying that tolls or gas taxes are regressive is sortof true, but it's also a dodge. The most regressive thing is our system of compulsory autoism. Owning and operating a car is expensive!

Here is an summary at City Observatory of "Ten things more inequitable than road pricing." Item #5 is a discussion of gas taxes:"Gas taxes [do] tend to be much more regressive than other forms of taxation. That’s just as inequitable, on its face, as congestion pricing, yet we’ve never seen a serious argument that we ought to discount the price of gasoline for poor households." Incremental changes to the gas tax will contribute to the creation of a truly multi-modal system in which all people feel they have genuine choices and car trips are the mobility choice of last resort, not first resort.

2. Anyway, what is really regressive? Climate disruption. Flood and famine and other climate chaos disproportionately affects poor people. Even if a 5 cent increase on a local gas tax in and of itself does not "get people out of cars," it does contribute to the political and cultural acceptance of a gradually increasing gas/carbon tax - which we're gonna have to do sooner or later.

3. Gas tax monies can be used on our deferred maintenance rather than road expansion. They can be used for seismic retrofits on smaller bridges, of which Salem has many. They could be used for bus-only lanes or protected bike lanes. The Bike Bill's 1% is a minimum, not a maximum! There are projects in the road right-of-way that would be eligible for gas tax money that do not primarily induce or benefit drive-alone trips. There might be new and creative ways to purpose gas tax money we haven't considered. (But at the same time, they could also be used in the same old ways for road widening, and this would be counter-productive. Still, we shouldn't think our old habit must provide the template for the future, even given the constraints placed on gas tax monies.)

Ricardo Salem said...

At the risk of asking the obvious, is there any attempt to discover what is causing the persistent budget shortages? Any persistent problem like "budget shortfalls" suggests there may be systemic problems that will continue to "produce" the same results until the system changes.

Salem's crisis is not unique, in most communities, the costs of providing services to "growth" (population, real estate development, debt) increase faster than revenue. This was true in Salem even before PERS and the shortfalls were evident before Measures 47 and 50 capped property tax revenue.

Asking citizens to pay more is only part of the solution the other part is for the community to examine the problem. If "growth" is good why can't we sustain it?

(2017)The forecast for the General Fund continues to demonstrate a structural imbalance between current, available revenue and the cost of providing services. Easing this imbalance over the forecast period may require new, additional revenue to prevent service reductions.

(2020) The forecast for the General Fund demonstrates a structural imbalance between current, available revenue and the cost of providing services. Relieving this imbalance over the forecast period may require new, additional revenue sources to prevent significant service reductions.