A transportation bill for Larry George

Steve Novick

Earlier today, Bob Stacey of 1,000 Friends and I held a press conference on the transportation bill. I hope it will get some coverage, but want to be sure BlueOregon readers can see my full remarks. So far opposition to the bill has been reported as "some environmentalists are complaining"; to me the concerns about earmarks, addressed below, are at least as strong a reason to oppose the bill as the absence of some provisions the environmental community had sought. I recognize the need for road funding. I understand that the Democratic leaders are just trying to do the responsible thing. But I think they have paid too high a price.

These were the notes I used for my remarks.  (I didn't use everything, but did use most of it):

This bill because is inconsistent with the vision for transportation repeatedly and articulately outlined by Governor Ted Kulongoski and by his Transportation Vision Committee in its report of November 2008.

It was the Vision Committee that recommended attacking global warming pollution by requiring the state’s six metro regions implement plans to reduce transportation greenhouse gases (which represent one-third of Oregon’s emissions).  As Casey Stengel said, you can look it up.  It’s on page 11 of the Vision Committee report. It’s repeated on page 26. But under HB 2001, no metro area other than Portland is required to implement regional plans—leaving Oregon as the ONLY West Coast state not requiring regional planning to reduce these emissions in every metro area (Cal. SB 375 (2008); Wash. Gov. Gregoire Exec. Order (May 2009)).

It was the Vision Committee that recommended increasing the State’s dedication of highway and road funds for bicycle and pedestrian improvements from one to 1.5A%.  You can look it up. It’s on page 20 of the report.  It’s repeated on page 26.

It is important to note that the Vision Committee was not a fringe group composed of wild-eyed environmentalists.  The Vision Committee included people like Pat Reiten of Pacific Power, Gail Achterman of the Oregon Transportation Commission, and representatives of AAA, Associated Oregon Industries, the Oregon Business Association, and the Portland Business Alliance. 

Finally, it was Governor Kulongoski who said forcefully that he would veto any bill that contained earmarks. It was Governor Kulongoski who wrote that "Having the Legislature choose the transportation projects that will be funded is not the Oregon way."

This bill contains $960 million in earmarks.  And it demonstrates that Governor Kulongoski was right to oppose earmarks.  Because any Oregonian who reads this list of earmarks is going to be left wondering whether these decisions were made based on good transportation policy, or on political muscle.  

The single largest earmark, by a country mile, is the $192 million earmark for the Newberg-Dundee bypass. Apparently, the Legislature has decided that the Newberg-Dundee bypass is the single most important transportation priority in Oregon. 

I recognize that the Transportation Commission identified the Newberg-Dundee bypass, with a total price tag of $550 million, as a project of statewide significance. But that does not answer the question, why is this project more deserving of funding than any other project? Why is this project worth entitled to almost eight months’ worth of the additional gas taxes that all Oregonians will be required to pay?  [The gas tax is projected to raise $300 million a year. $192 million is 233.6 days’ worth. Which will make August 22 Newberg-Dundee Bypass Gas Tax Freedom Day.] 

The Transportation Commission identified an I-5 / Delta Park project, with a price tag of $96 million, as a project of statewide significance. But there is no Delta Park earmark. 

The Transportation Commission identified the I-5 / I-84 interchange, with a price tag of $780 million to $1.3 billion, as a project of statewide significance.  But there is no I-5 / I-84 earmark.  

The Transportation Commission identified the I-5 / Highway 99W connector, with a price tag of $2.1 billion, as a project of statewide significance.  But there is  no I-5 / highway 99W connector earmark. 
The Transportation Commission identified the proposed Sunrise Corridor project, with a price tag of $1 billion, as a project of statewide significance. But the Legislature earmarked only $100 million for the Sunrise Corridor. Why does the Sunrise Corridor get 10% of the money it theoretically needs, but Newberg-Dundee gets 35%?  

Why is this project different from any other project?  

In the absence of legislative leaders stepping forward to explain why the Newberg-Dundee bypass is the most important project in Oregon, we are left to speculate.  Here is one line of speculation.  

The Newberg-Dundee area is represented by Senator Larry George. Larry George has close ties to the far-right group Freedomworks, led, in Oregon, by Russ Walker. In fact, in May, 2006, according to the Oregonian, Larry George acknowledged that he “couldn’t have succeeded [in his primary challenge to incumbent Charles Starr] without help from anti-tax group Freedomworks.”  

On May 14, Russ Walker told the Oregonian that pursuing a referral for a tax increase on the wealthy to fund education and human services would be “difficult,” and that “his group may instead focus on collecting signatures to refer an expected increase in the gas tax to the ballot.”  On May 22, after the Legislature had passed a transportation bill that earmarked the equivalent of $2,000 per resident to Larry George’s Yamhill County, Russ Walker told the Oregonian that “his group will probably focus on other tax proposals.”   

So one possible explanation for why Newberg-Dundee is different from all other projects is that the only way to prevent a referral was to make Larry George happy, so that he, in turn, could persuade his friend Russ Walker not to launch a referral. 

Now, you might ask, isn’t it worth it? We don’t want a referral. We need money for roads. It’s important to the business community and the business climate. 

My answer is: the price is too high.  This is not a transportation bill for responsible people to endorse.  In particular, this is not a bill that the business community should endorse.  Again and again, business leaders have said that we need to address gridlock in the Portland metropolitan area.  A transportation bill that makes the Newberg-Dundee bypass the state’s highest priority does not address that concern. 
As Governor Kulongoski said, this is not the Oregon way.  The business community, the Governor, and environmental leaders agreed on a new vision for transportation funding in Oregon. Let’s implement that vision.  And if Russ Walker wants to launch a referral, let’s do what Chris Gregoire and community leaders did in Washington. Let’s run a campaign and beat the referral.  

  • (Show?)

    Can't speak to your conclusions here Steve, but if Freedomworks and their zero tax crowd can be proven to have rolled over for a fat payday, this might be very useful in the next election cycle.........

  • (Show?)

    I’m in agreement with you, Steve. This is not a balanced transportation bill and the price is too high. I agree with the concerns of the environmentalists’ letter of 5/19/09 (here). I’m not against a gas tax. I’ve advocated here on Blue Oregon and elsewhere for a substantial, revenue neutral gas tax for environmental and national security reasons. I’d be in favor of any gas tax, big or small, which either rebated the taxes raised fairly or funded the transportation infrastructure we will need when the price of gas is $5.00 per gallon or more. I do not see that in this bill.

    Further, I remain disappointed, and a bit annoyed, that this legislature is currently not funding strategic economic development priorities that are much higher, IMHO. With China’s economy forecast to be twice the size of the US economy in 2050, and with 80% of global growth forecast over the next several decades to be in emerging markets, Oregon strategically needs to invest in the capacity to sell products and services in these markets. That means upgrading foreign languages programs in our public schools and sending high school and university students to study abroad. $3 million in proposals for Mandarin development and the creation of a Go Global High School Study Abroad Program died in the House Education Committee. Dollar for dollar, investments in foreign language programs would have a bigger economic development bang than most of these highway projects.

    This transportation bill seems to be largely political pork, not sound investments in our economic future.

  • Brian Collins (unverified)

    Steve makes some excellent points. I think that there are some political problems with our current setup - the Oregon Transportation Commission is supposed to select the projects to be funded, based on the state's needs, but the legislature is supposed to do the political heavy lifting of raising the revenue to pay for them. Legislators want to have some role in picking projects so they can say: "Look, if you pay 6 cents more per gallon, you can get X, Y, and Z projects." Of course, this leaves the possibility that projects will be selected to satisfy political needs (or send pork home to the district) instead of what the state really needs.

    Perhaps one solution would be for the Oregon Transportation Commission to review and set the gas tax every two years, taking the gas tax and the projects funded out of the (direct) hands of elected officials. Since the OTC is appointed by the Governor to fixed terms, there is still a mechanism for accountability to the public, but it is less direct.

    The reality is that our transportation system has been starved for investment for both motorized and nonmotorized transportation, and this 6 cent increase is not going to make up for years of underinvestment. But we need to start somewhere.

  • Jeremy Rogers (unverified)


    Good job on your post. Do you believe that the votes can be found for a package that more accurately reflects the work of the vision committee?

    While we are all disgusted by earmarks and political favor trading, is there a better way?

    Unfortunately, we are in a tough spot. Congress is going to reauthorize the federal highway bill and we need to show them that we are willing to fund our system.

    Making the bill better is important, but we can't lose sight of the importance of passing a bill this session.

    Help me out....is there a way to get a better bill and the votes?

  • Jeremy Rogers (unverified)

    Brian makes a great point. In fact, one part of the Vision Committee report was to set up a "Transportation Utility Commission" to take on this function, similar to how we deal with utility rate increases.

  • Elizabeth C (unverified)

    A transportation package brought to you by Larry George.

    In the minority, yet able to bring hundreds of millions of dollars to projects for his anti-Democratic Party friends, while the core of the Democratic Party legislators get squat.

    The money George's donors like Adec save in not referring this package will get rolled into defeating Democrats in the next election, in part by sending out attack pieces on Democrats for voting for this set of seven new taxes that are highly unpopular.

    WTF is Dave Hunt thinking? Does he WANT to return to being the minority party?

  • Jeremy Rogers (unverified)


    I think what Dave Hunt is thinking is that funding our ailing transportation system is the responsibility of the legislature, and he is taking on that responsibility.

    Nobody likes the politics that go into building the package, but what do we expect when we ask legislators to do this?

    In the end, we'd be better of as Brian suggests with the Transportation Commission or a new utility commission determining the rates to maintain, preserve and expand our transportation infrastructure.

    Until we have that option, we have to deal with the fact that it will be decided by legislators, and that legislators will earmark bills and that candidates will spin decisions made during the session to help their electoral chances.

    This all sucks, but I applaud Dave Hunt for doing something that has needed to be done for 15 years. This is what we expect of our legislators-to take political risks in order to take care of the needs of the state.

    Now, if the package can be improved and still get the votes, by all means lets make that happen. But passing the package is critical, and Hunt is doing the right thing.

  • Jay Arlington (unverified)

    Steve, is that vision report online? If so, could you share a link?

  • Insider (unverified)

    What a lame, transparent attempt by Steve Novick to kick off his campaign for Governor. Disappointing.

  • Elizabeth C (unverified)

    Fixing the transportation system needs to be done. But this package doesn't do it - it creates more problems than it solves.

    I didn't vote and work for a bunch of Demcorats so they can build huge pork projects, mainly for Republicans who will attack them for doing just that.

  • Terry Parker (unverified)

    Missing from the mono-mode tax transportation funding bill is a bicycle tax, license and registration fee that at the very least would require each and every adult bicyclists to pay an annual fee equal to the amount is costs to register an automobile. After paying the fee, each adult bicyclists would then be provided a registration stickler that when applied to a bicycle helmet, would allow a bicyclist to ride any bike legally on a public right-of-way.

    For way to long a period of time, the burden of paying for bicycle infrastructure has been discriminately placed on the backs of motor vehicle taxpayers. A balanced allocation of funds requires a balanced taxation policy whereby motorists are no longer treated as the political pawn cash cows to be milked to pay for the infrastructure costs of other modes of travel. If deadbeat and freeloader pedal pusher bicyclists want more specialized bicycle infrastructure; then those same deadbeat and freeloader pedal pusher bicyclists must start paying their own way - including paying for a huge chunk and proportional share of a replacement Sellwood Bridge where the deadbeat and freeloader pedal pusher bicyclists have been allocated almost half of the deck space while motor vehicle infrastructure is being rationed. One less driver turned bicyclist is one less car on the road, thereby one less taxpayer paying for transportation infrastructure. It is time legislators who are bicyclists set their personal conflict of interest aside and support a bicycle tax.

    Moreover, the proposed increase in motor vehicle registration fees is much too high and will negatively impact small businesses, low income and working class Oregonians. The $43 a year needs to be scaled back to a figure in the range of $30 to $35 dollars a year. An annual bicycle tax, license and registration fee could be used to make up the difference.

  • Randy Tucker (unverified)

    Jay, here is a link to the report of the Governor's Vision Committee:


  • insider also (unverified)

    Welcome back, Steve. Glad to see you've been involved in helping to put Oregonians back to work. Did you happen to talk to anyone involved in the real decision making at the Legislative level? Shame on you. You were a caucus staffer at one point, and you should no better about how to balance moving real policy within a partisan environment. You can hold out for purity, and get nothing. Perhaps that is why the Senate Ds expanded their numbers under your leadership.

    If you didn't like the package, get off your butt and actually get involved in proposing real alternatives. Don't ride in at the 11th hour, and throw bombs...particularly when everyone knows it is to position yourself for future electoral endeavors. Did you know how much Stacey and some of the enviros moved the goalposts in negotiations? Do you have any idea about how this vote ties together with other environmental items under consideration?

    Steve, you know better. Then again, it was you that tried to argue that some of Merkley's numerous successes in 2007 had nothing to do with his leadership...at the same time you were trying to claim success for things the Senate Ds accomplished when you were a staffer working for them.

    You have an enormous intellect and you should be using it to move the ball forward...by rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty. Not by holding paltry press conferences and throwing bombs.

  • travesti (unverified)

    Here is a very helpful summary that was passed on to me by a friend.

  • Emily George (unverified)

    Dollar for dollar, money spent on road maintenance and public transportation creates more jobs than building new roads, so this isn't about jobs, as backers of the transportation package allege.

    It's about pure raw power politics from those who're going to make a bundle on some of the road-building binge we're about to go. And it's shameful because it's based on using 20 years of future gas tax revenue, significantly foreclosing options for future legislatures and Governors to change transportation priorities.

    Claims that this is the greenest transportation package ever are laughable to anybody who's actually waded into the details. Next they'll be telling us other whoppers like "coal is clean."

  • Insider Three (unverified)

    "Enviros moved the goalposts"????

    Bull. The Governor's Joint Commission - which included AAA, truckers, AOI, etc. - agreed on everything the enviros asked for. The enviros were willing and spent months compromising from those, and move the goalposts CLOSER.

    And then the legislators completely changed the field, tore down goalposts, and changed a game of football to a game of "let's give away the store to Larry George" in a sprawl pork-based package of backroom deals and earmarks which robs urban areas to pay for huge highways that will cause climate change and unchecked sprawl. Without those bad projects, which make up the lion's share of money spent, I think you could have gotten support or at least neutrality from enviros.

    And as far as bomb-throwing: the legislators threw the first bomb by hiding their hundred-million-dollar pork projects until the deal was signed, sealed, and delivered.

    Don't blame the enviros for not liking this gross homage to the 1950s.

  • Josh Reynolds (unverified)

    Larry George's bill? This was clearly Terry Beyer and Rick Metzger's bill. Both moderate pro business democrats running transportation

  • jim (unverified)

    We are still waiting for the 'insiders' to tell us how for the advocates on the Vision Committee this bill is anything more than a complete SURRENDER to the highway lobby.

    And we are still waiting to hear a reason that gives anyone who hopes for a balanced transportation policy a glimmer of hope that this bill will help.

    Is there a case not to support a referral of this bill?

  • Superwonk (unverified)

    Does the environmental special interest group opposition to this package mean we can expect they'll be protesting outside of each member's home who voted for this package?

    How about a piece of hit mail to constituents of members who voted yes?

    Better get busy, several members from the extremely conservative and remote areas of Northeast and Southeast Portland voted yes. Those car-loving SOB's! Let's make them pay for it!

    Now THOSE are some productive endeavors, enviros.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    The transporatation bill is packed with earmarks for lots of districts. Here in southern Oregon we are being lured with about $145MM in road improvement projects from Lakeview to Phoenix. The promise of Davis-Bacon wage jobs and finally addressing intersections/overpass on-ramps that have been 'failing' for years.

    Is the squel worth the pork?

  • Cafe Today (unverified)

    1) Josh Reynolds is right.

    2) Giving the Gov's package kudos for anything is misleading. Nobody ever took that seriously, especially the 2 cents-a-gallon increase in the gas tax that was in his package. Just like the Gov's budget...irrelevant.

  • Outsider (unverified)

    I think that you are attributing way more power to Larry George than he actually has.

    Suggesting that this bill was laden with earmarks is disingenuous. The projects that are indicated in the bill are projects that are on ODOT's list of statewide priorities. That process is data driven and needs-based, and has nothing to do with legislative earmarking.

    What happened in this negotiation is that the Governor forced the legislature to pull out their earmarks and replace them with ODOT priorities that are not rooted in legislative politics. This is exactly what he should have done.

    The Newberg-Dundee bypass is the only transportation project with two separate line-items out of 14 items on ODOT's list of projects of statewide significance. The bypass was not moved to the front of the line. So far as ODOT was concerned, it was already there.

    As for the politics of this, the only real impact is that Jim Weidner will be a one-term legislator. If this bill had no other effect, that would still be a step in the right direction.

  • Gadfly (unverified)

    To suggest this package funds the state's top transportation priorities is disingenuous.

    Really, is Heppner's need for a $3 million project -- $2000+ per resident, one of the state's greatest transportation needs?

    ODOT's "priority list" is a wishlist if money grew on trees. It is NOT a list of ordered priorities with the transportation package on the top of it.

    These projects may have been discussed 25 years ago when first proposed, but there is absolutely no demonstration that these projects are the best use of scarce money.

    They're spending $840 million, and not spending it carefully.

  • travesti (unverified)

    Thank you very much for this useful article and the comments. I love this site as it contains good

  • (Show?)

    I need a job, so a campaign to beat that referral would fit nicely into my schedule. Just takes some legislative gumption to get us there.

  • rex burkholder (unverified)

    Hidden within the bill are components from the Vision Committee that I hope will help improve transportation decision making in the future. There are four reviews to be conducted by the interim House and Senate Transportation committees including best practices in delivering transportation services metropolitan areas and a review of roles and responsibilities among the various levels of government. section 1

    There are many problems with the current system and we should be looking elsewhere for ideas. For example, the Washington legislature also designates projects but they come from a list that is developed by every region of the state through a comprehensive priority setting process. This seems like it might be the best of both worlds: legislators get to bring home the bacon and the projects are well vetted. Hence, their success in raising the gas tax 14.5¢ in the last 6 years.

    Another model is California. In 1999, the Legislature there divvied up the state and federal transportation dollars 75% to metropolitan areas (where 75% of the population lives) and gave 25% to Caltrans. Caltrans takes care of inter-city travel needs (including trains) and the Metropolitan Planning Organizations are given the responsibilities, along with the resources, to deal with urban transportation issues.

  • Perpugilliam Brown (unverified)

    Very, very, very good. A Dem not in lock-step with Ted. You've enriched the blog infinitely!

    An editorial note. Yo! There are great text analyzers out there. Use 'em! There is less than 5% variation in 75% of Terry Parker's posts. That is comment spam, not debate. Delete it, or is that a cunning plan to get people so pissed off that someone takes care of the spamming auto salesman? And "insider", your relationship to Sam is off-topic.

  • The Valeyard (unverified)

    Does anyone care that JK and Terry Parker are suborning murder ? Your ruling, most sagacious editor?

  • 350-001 (unverified)

    According to my point of views, it is not a hauling bill for dependable citizens to give your support to. Especially, it is not a bill that the industry society should support. So I don’t think they will all support this bell and also they shouldn’t do so.

  • 646-653 (unverified)

    It’s very difficult to say anything about your results here Steve. But I think if Freedomworks and their zero tax crowds can be demonstrated to have rolled over for a heavy payday, this might also be extremely helpful in the subsequently voting sequence. Thanks for the nice post.

  • travesti (unverified)

    As for the politics of this, the only real impact is that Jim Weidner will be a one-term legislator. If this bill had no other effect, that would still be a step in the right direction.

  • (Show?)

    I need a job, so a campaign to beat that referral would fit nicely into my schedule. Just takes some legislative car shipping gumption to get us there.

  • (Show?)

    Can't speak to your conclusions here Steve, but if Freedomworks and their zero tax crowd can be proven to have rolled over for a fat payday, this might be very useful in the next election car shipping cycle.........

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