Transportation package hits snag over fuel standards
SALEM — Legislative Republicans are threatening to block a proposed transportation package if Democrats move forward with legislation aimed at combating greenhouse gases.
Senate President Peter Courtney said Tuesday the development makes him pessimistic about the prospects for a gas tax increase to pay for transportation projects.
"I'm pretty depressed about it right now, to be frank with you. I don't know where to go from here," Courtney, a Salem Democrat, told reporters and newspaper editors at a forum organized by The Associated Press.
Republicans object to Gov. John Kitzhaber's push to continue Oregon's low-carbon fuel standard, which is scheduled to expire at the end of the year, before it's fully implemented.
The legislation would require fuel providers to reduce the carbon content of their products or buy credits from producers of clean burning fuels.
GOP lawmakers say they're concerned gas prices would rise, and any increase in prices shouldn't coincide with a gas tax hike. Proponents say the program is designed to avoid major price spikes.
Oregon's contribution to global greenhouse gases is tiny, said Sen. Ted Ferrioli of John Day, the top Republican in the Senate.
"This is an issue of Oregon symbolism," Ferrioli said. "Oregonians are going to be asked to pay real money on what is essentially a symbolic contribution on the issue of global warming."
Democrats have the majority in both the House and Senate, but tax increases require a three-fifths supermajority. That means they need at least one GOP vote in the House and the support of every Democrat in the Senate.
But without robust support from Republicans, critics would collect signatures to refer it to the ballot and voters would probably reject it, Courtney said, so Democrats can't press ahead on their own.
Courtney said he won't bury the climate change measure in order to protect the transportation package.
"I believe it's important to who we are and what we are," Courtney said.
Other Democrats refused to say whether they viewed one measure as more important than the other.
"This is the epitome of a false choice," Kitzhaber said. "One has nothing to do with the other. Both, it seems to me, are very, very important."
Rep. Val Hoyle of Eugene, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said her party won't "start allowing ourselves to be taken hostage" by Republicans.