Today OPAL sent a letter to the Joint Committee on Transportation and Modernization at the Oregon State Legislature. Legislators have proposed a transportation package which includes myriad investments and revenue proposals. The text of the letter, which contains our read of what the bill as proposed means for Oregon, follows.
June 9, 2017
Joint Committee on Transportation and Modernization
Oregon State Legislature
900 Court Street NE
Salem, OR 97301
RE: HB 2017-3 State Transportation Package
Co Chairs Rep. McKeown and Sen. Beyer, and Members of the Committee,
Thank you for the opportunity to provide written testimony on HB2017-3, and for the significant effort that has gone into shaping the proposal. OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon is a membership-driven organization working to build power and develop the leadership of those most impacted by the policy decisions which shape how low-income people and communities of color experience the lived environment: the places where we live, work, learn, play and pray.
As our state continues to grow, the need for affordable, reliable and accessible mobility for all Oregonians becomes greater. For those who rely on public transportation the most- youth, seniors, low income individuals, people of color and those without access to a car- a strong transit system means access to education, jobs, and healthcare. A modern, well-funded transportation system that is planned, built, and operated with equity as a guiding principle will benefit everyone through reduced air toxics, carbon output, and congestion, and shape our region for generations to come.
We thank you for taking on the challenge of shaping these vital investments this legislative session, and ask for the following to be meaningfully addressed in this package:
Significant, ongoing investments for transit and active transportation– Both new and enhanced capacity in public transit operations and service hours are critical to making our existing systems and transit districts more efficient. Such investments can offer transportation solutions beyond a personal vehicle for rural areas. It is imperative for this package to clearly demonstrate how transit agencies will use this money; accountability measures must be included to ensure that all those paying into the system, first from their hard-earned working wages through the proposed employee payroll tax and then again at the farebox, have a meaningful voice in decision-making at the transit district level. Mitigations for the lowest wage earners in the form of fare relief must be put in place to ensure they aren’t disproportionately burdened by this regressive taxation method.
Oregon is far behind other states in making meaningful investments in public transportation. The current level of funding for transit, biking, and walking is a paltry slice of the overwhelming investment proposed for roads and highways. All investments through HB2017-3 should be targeted with precision. Low-income families are the most likely to use walking and transit as their primary mode of transportation; currently, this package disproportionately burdens these households while failing to adequately invest in the transportation they need to meet their basic needs. Enhancing active transportation infrastructure helps to alleviate total transportation system pressures and makes travel safer for all modes. This must be a key investment strategy for the long term.
Addressing Regressivity- Low income individuals contribute more of their household income to transportation as a percentage than middle and upper income earners. Transportation is the second largest household cost for all income earners, after housing. During a time when a housing crisis is displacing urban and rural Oregonians, pushing low-income people further from economic and educational opportunities, transportation is becoming less affordable.
Regressive taxes hurt those earning the least, the most. HB2017-3 is solely funded on regressive tax mechanisms: a three percent excise tax on bicycles and the 1/10th percent employee payroll tax places the burden of funding active and mass transportation to those who already pay for bikes and bus fare. This makes bus riders and bicyclists pay twice for a public service that benefits us all in form of congestion mitigation, air quality and reduced climate impacts. Without a strong, equitable transportation policy and or progressive funding mechanisms driven by community-identified needs, the communities who rely most on public transit could find themselves stranded yet again.
Equitable Congestion Relief- Investing $766M, and potentially more, in roadway expansion is not a solution to our congestion issues. Expanding highways has never reduced congestion. Instead, it enables more cars to take to the road, creating “induced demand” by taking up more public space with lanes dedicated to automotive traffic. Oregon should not encourage single-person non-commercial traffic.
To encourage alternatives, we must fund them and make them attractive to the community who currently drives. Funding transit, bicycle and pedestrian options is a clear solution to Oregon’s congestion problems because it makes alternatives to automobiles more practical.
Congestion pricing must be carefully considered. Congestion pricing allows that commuters pay to be on the road at specific times of day, or to use specific lanes. If done correctly, congestion pricing can provide a funding source for aging transportation infrastructure and public transit alternatives. The inherent regressivity of congestion pricing can be mitigated if the revenue generated targets investment and reduces the burden of low-income communities. Such a policy can of course reduce congestion, but if poorly designed has unintended consequences for low income workers and communities of color. A well-designed plan can be less burdensome to low-income individuals than other revenue sources. Oregon needs further meaningful community engagement of impacted community members to determine how the revenue generated will be used.
Commitment to Impacted Communities- Negative environmental impacts should not disproportionately burden low-income or other impacted communities. To advance transportation justice, it is imperative that the distribution of benefits and investments are equitable throughout the state of Oregon. Transportation policy must be transparent and accountable to the public, especially those who rely most on the system. This package contains mechanisms to hold Oregon Department of Transportation accountable, but we must do more. This committee needs to make sure that accountability is considered throughout the package. It is still unclear how transit agencies will increase the frequency of bus service to communities with a high percentage of low-income households, purchase buses powered by natural gas or electricity, reduce fares in communities with a high percentage of low-income households, and expand bus routes and services to reach communities with a high percentage of low-income households. These agencies are required to report back on the use of these funds one year after receiving them. There needs to be specific criteria of how transit agencies plan to do this before they obtain any money.
In closing, the proposal before you is a mixed bag. Political compromise is difficult, and we have a responsibility to ensure that compromises do not erode the purpose of taking any action. The investments made here in public and active transportation are vital and should not be reduced in any manner. All proposed investments in highway widening must be recognized as false solutions to the problem of congestion. Revenue mechanisms in this package are almost uniformly regressive, hitting low income communities and people of color harder. Mitigation of regressivity is mentioned, but could be strengthened and specified more clearly to ensure equitable investment. The state is considering this package removed from revenue conversations to balance the state budget. In the absence of leadership which results in this legislative body taking decisive action on revenue, any state investments, including those proposed in HB2017-3, will be lackluster. We encourage the committee to carefully consider revisions to this package to meet the articulated needs: creating a transportation system that is safe, efficient, accessible, affordable, and that reduces air toxics, carbon output, and roadway congestion.
Huy Ong, Executive Director
Vivian Satterfield, Deputy Director