Ballots were mailed on Wednesday for the City of Bend Motor Vehicle Fuel Tax, Measure 9-105, a five cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline that would be dedicated to road repairs and improvements in Bend.
A city fuel tax is not a new concept in Oregon, where state and federal funding for roads has stayed stagnant for two decades. There are 24 cities in Oregon with a gas tax, ranging from one cent in Newport to three cents in Sisters and five cents in Eugene. It makes sense that Bend, a city of fewer than 100,000 residents, would help fund roads through a tax that shares the burden with the city's 2 million annual tourists.
The timing of the ballot is intended to allow Bend to have the fuel tax in place prior to the peak tourism of the spring and summer months. According to Visit Bend, there are 1.4 to 1.7 million visitor trips to Bend from May to October, and 1.8 million to 2.2 million annually (based on the hotel census for Bend, 2008 - 2010). Bend's tourism grows and grows while funding for road maintenance from the state and federal government does not. The result is mounting deferred maintenance, estimated to be $80 million, according to an independent consultant's report from 2013.
Two opponents of the gas tax on the Bend City Council include Victor Chudowsky and Casey Roats, who voted against sending the proposal to the ballot in March. Chudowsky points to the ongoing problem at the state level, where a reliance on taxes for roads has led to ever-more taxes, growing from nine cents per gallon in 1985 to 30 cents per gallon today. Furthermore, Oregon's shortfall for roads will continue due to flat or declining revenue as fuel efficiency steadily improves.
"I totally agree more money has to be spent on streets," says Chudowsky. "However, putting in a local gas tax would be replicating the state's failure." He says a better option would be to allocate differently the tourism tax money that the city already receives through room taxes. He notes the Bend tourism boom is expected to continue; four new hotels are currently under construction, and revenue is growing faster than expected. "Growth should pay for itself," he says.
Prior to the March 8 special election, the City of Bend will hold an informational open house on Monday, Feb. 29 at City Hall (710 NW Wall Street). City Manager Eric King will talk about the city's finances and the city's finance director and streets and operations director will answer questions about the deterioration of the street conditions and proposed solutions.
The tax would bring more money into the city's general fund to be allocated to road repair costs, avoiding cuts that would come from other parts of the budget. With more than 2 million visitors to Bend who use city resources and the roads, this is a win-win for the city. Vote yes on Measure 9-105.