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Voters to decide gas tax in May

PORTLAND — Portland voters will decide the fate of a 10-cent-per-gallon tax on gas in May.

The Portland City Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to send the tax to the May 17 ballot, The Oregonian reports.

"Today, we've achieved something that some people probably thought couldn't happen," Commissioner Nick Fish said. "Which is: You've found a path forward."

The gas-tax vote is a final step in a two-year long battle over how to pay for street improvements in the city. In 2014, Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick pushed for a new street fee without a public vote, which was largely derided by Portland residents.

If approved, the gas tax is projected to raise about $35.8 million for paving projects and $28.2 million for safety projects, sidewalks and bike lanes. Regardless of how much the tax raises, 56 percent of revenues will go toward street repairs and 44 percent will go toward safety projects.

Portland's roads have been falling into disrepair for years. Officials estimate repairing them would take nearly $1.2 billion over 10 years. A gas tax was put forward as a preferred option to fund the projects last fall after other plans fell through.

Petroleum industry officials have already voiced strong opposition for the tax, which has only garnered tepid support from voters, according to early polling.

Paul Romain, a lobbyist for the Oregon Fuels Association, said his group would challenge the wording on the city's ballot and then campaign against the tax during the election season.

"There will be a very broad coalition opposing this at the ballot in May, I can guarantee you that," he said.