Over objections from the state’s trucking industry, Portland’s city council chose to renew a tax on drivers of heavy trucks that travel on city roadways.
The original tax was passed in 2016, a four-year companion to a 10-cents-per-gallon gas tax referred to — and ultimately passed by — Portland voters. Last week, the Council voted to refer that tax to Portland voters once more, so the city can keep the money flowing to address a backlog of street repairs and improvement projects. And the city is, once again, asking truck drivers — who don’t pay the gas tax — to pay their share.
The tax is slightly higher than the 2016 version. It lops on a 3% surcharge to the weight-mile tax drivers of heavy vehicles already pay to the state, rather than a 2.8% surcharge.
This means Portland collects taxes based, in part, on miles truck drivers are driving throughout Oregon. It’s a setup some said was fundamentally unfair, in testimony to the City Council last week.
“We have branches and equipment throughout the state. In fact, the vast majority of our equipment is outside the city of Portland,” said Tim Love, who oversees logistics at Carson Oil Co. and sits on the board of the Oregon Trucking Associations. “But this tax, as unfair as it is, we pay on all the miles we drive in Central Oregon, in Medford, across the state.”
Those in the industry also voiced concern that the tax, when first hammered out by then-Commissioner Steve Novick, was presented to them as an emergency four-year measure.
“To approve a tax on a temporary basis and then come back at its sunset and change to a permanent tax is disingenuous and poor policy,” said Diane DeAutremont, the president of moving and storage company Lile International. “We were told the tax was an emergency measure for immediate repairs because the state had failed to pass an adequate transportation package.”
She noted the state had since passed that package.
At Wednesday’s council meeting, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees Portland’s Bureau of Transportation, said she’d since checked with Novick, against whom she ran and defeated in 2016. Eudaly said she’d been assured that the heavy-vehicle-use tax was created to run parallel with the gas tax. Therefore, if the gas tax was being posed to voters again, it was logical that the heavy vehicle use tax be renewed as well.
“The fair share principle certainly does not expire,” Eudaly said.
She also noted that most companies using Portland’s roads are bearing a relatively small tax burden. The majority of companies, she said, do not pay more than $65 a month under the tax.
The tax is estimated to bring in $11 million before it sunsets after four years. It begins in 2021 and will go toward and go toward the city’s long list of improvement projects, which include new street paving, sidewalks and signals.