- Pothole patrol: Bend street crews fill gaping road wounds.
Roads are one of those core government services that are a great reflection of a community. It doesn't matter what your political affiliation, when your right tire goes deep into a pothole, slamming your teeth together, you're going to curse "government." The leaders of our cities and states know this, and that's why no matter what else candidates or government employees hope to work on during their tenure of public service, they always get pulled back to roads. If a community has a solid financial revenue structure and solid public servants, you're going to glide to work.
Right now, if you're reading this, your teeth probably hurt—and the people in charge of our roads are not the reason for your jarring trip to work. Bend has a revenue problem, and the hunt is on for the money to fill it.
Right now in Salem, Oregon state legislators are considering House Bill 2744, which would allow municipalities to take money from Transient Room Tax dollars and reallocate them for roads and sidewalks—which are essentially being reclassified as "tourism related services." This would be a mistake.
Common sense will tell you that while tourists do use our roads, they do not use them in anywhere near the proportion as locals. There are currently tens of thousands of people commuting into Bend. That's going to have the largest impact on roads.
Currently in Bend, 65 percent of the monies collected through the TRT dollars are given to the City of Bend's general fund. Meanwhile, 35 percent is reinvested into the economic tourism engine of Central Oregon. That's a fair mix for infrastructure impacts, and the return on investment is significant for the smaller portion that is put towards tourism. There was 170percent growth in general fund dollars from 2010 to 2016—meaning the actual dollars that go toward the general fund went from just north of $2 million to closer to $5.5 million. The engine of this economic growth, tourism, is not an area we should be looking to defund.
Roads are a good measure of how much we collectively give of ourselves for a common good. Elected leaders can tap into this goodwill if they explain to voters the economic balance between cars, gas and roads. It's called a gas tax. Tourists pay for it, and locals pay for it in a rough proportion to how they use the roads. Let's not take the quick fix to the detriment of our economy. This is a problem we should put onto our local leaders, not onto the tourists.