Oregon governor says gas tax hike for roads is dead
SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown called an end Thursday to negotiations aimed at raising gas taxes to pay for highway and bridge construction, saying "there simply isn't a path forward."
A transportation funding plan was a top priority for the Democratic governor, who worked for weeks with lawmakers from both parties in an effort to find a compromise.
The unbridgeable divide was the low-carbon fuel standard, a carbon reduction mandate that took effect with Brown's signature in March. Republicans were united in their insistence that it be repealed to earn GOP votes for a gas tax hike.
In a statement, Brown said a transportation funding plan is still necessary, but it should no longer be tied to discussions about reducing carbon emissions.
"We worked hard to find a way to address them as a package, but no solution emerged that accomplished that to the satisfaction of all parties," Brown said. "They should be decoupled and considered separately, thus avoiding the 'my way, or no highway' situation in which we now find ourselves."
The low-carbon fuel standard, known by supporters as the Clean Fuels program, is supposed to reduce emissions from cars and trucks by 10 percent over 10 years. Brown and Senate leaders proposed replacing the fuel standard with alternative carbon reduction initiatives.
Environmentalists mounted a forceful campaign against the deal, saying it would not match the Clean Fuels program's level of carbon reduction. They got a boost when Oregon Department of Transportation Director Matt Garrett told lawmakers Wednesday that ODOT had overestimated the proposal's anticipated carbon reduction.
Environmental groups cheered Brown's statement Thursday.
"Oregonians deserve clean air and safe roads," said Andrea Durbin, director of the Oregon Environmental Council. "To pit one against the other is a false choice and helps no one."
Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek both said a transportation plan remained a priority.
"Bridges still need to be fixed. Highways still need to be repaved. Culverts still need to be replaced. Buses need to run. We're going to keep working. We're going to keep looking for the right road to get us there," Courtney said in a statement.
Senate Republicans said they were still open to funding transportation projects, but the issue should not be decoupled from a repeal of the low-carbon fuel standard.
The ill-fated deal would have raised gas taxes by 4 cents to 34 cents per gallon and hiked vehicle registration and driver's license fees by $10. It would have imposed a new transit tax on people who work in the Portland and Eugene metro areas.
It was projected to raise more than $340 million a year for construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, airports and mass transit.