A good idea is not necessarily inevitable; especially an idea—like the gas tax—which needs finesse to gather support. How that idea comes about matters immensely. That is Politics 101. But it is also apparently a basic tenet that the majority of Bend City Council decided to hopscotch past and, in the process, may have poisoned a good idea.
Here's the background: The roads in Bend are in terrible shape. According to the Pavement Condition Index (PCI), a method of measurement developed by the Army Corps of Engineers, Bend roads currently have a rating of 68, which is politely termed "poor." At the current rate of repair, that rating will continue to drop one point each year.
The solution? Finding about $5 million in annual revenue to provide sufficient street maintenance so that after five years the roads will be in the mid-70s heading towards "good."
The primary solution—and one the Source supports—is a 10-cent per gallon gas tax, an idea that has steadily been gathering supporters. However, that idea hit a major speed bump last week—one that threatens to derail the whole idea.
Here's what happened: Initially, Council had planned to convene a committee to explore the gas tax, as well as other funding options; that was intended as a preface to placing the gas tax in front of voters. But instead, at the August 5 meeting, they shortcut past the process and voted 4-3 to support placing a gas tax on a March special election ballot, a vote that came as a surprise to some of the councilors as it wasn't even on Council's agenda. All that was scheduled was a resolution to create a street funding committee to hash out ideas and details for a broad transportation funding plan. But Councilor Sally Russell made an initial motion, seconded by Councilor Nathan Boddie and, subsequently, passed 4-3.
Councilors Doug Knight, Casey Roats, and Victor Chudowsky expressed their strong opposition. That evening, the councilors did also vote to assemble a committee, but opponents pointed out it was a hollow gesture, especially with an amendment to remove non-gas tax considerations.
"What's your plan B when groups decide they don't want to participate?," asked Chudowsky.
Boddie replied matter-of-factly, "Invite more."
In response, Chudowsky offered: "I'm not seeing a strong incentive for folks to participate given your vote."
Mayor Clinton then stepped in: "I recommend Sally (Russell) and Casey (Roats)."
Roats had no hesitation: "No, thank you."
Chudowsky also declined, saying, "You're doing this exactly backwards."
Councilor Knight, who also voted against the ordinance, stepped in with the most sober assessment: "This is why I voted against it this evening," he stated. "I suspect a fuel tax may be the most efficient way to solve this problem, but I don't know. I'd like to make an informed decision." He added, "This vote has embroiled the opposition."
And, indeed, within 48 hours after the Council's vote, a number of organizations expressed their intent to withdraw from the process.
Instead of what should have been a political discussion intended to consolidate support for a gas tax now has become a messy process, with community members selecting sides faster than a kindergarten dodgeball game. And, while we support a gas tax to fund Bend's crumbling roads, in this case we side with the three councilors who opposed the motion that bypassed a more robust civic discussion.
No matter how good an idea is, it deserves not to be railroaded towards a conclusion. That's why its called politics. We hope Council will seriously consider re-opening a broader conversation.