Between Transportation and Community & Economic Development, the 2015 legislative session was a mixed bag.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way: Oregon’s transportation system took a beating this session. The much anticipated comprehensive transportation package never materialized after the Democrats pushed through the Clean Fuels legislation early on and, in response, the Republicans walked away from the negotiating table. Although a last minute rally raised our hopes, those hopes were quickly dashed. As a result, Oregon’s state highways, county roads, city streets, and bridges will continue to deteriorate.
The Legislature also failed to provide funding for the Department of Motor Vehicle’s (DMV) System Transformation Program (new IT system at $90 million over 10 years) or the credit/debit card merchant fees estimates at $6 million per biennium. These dollars will now come off the top of the State Highway Fund (SHF), meaning counties should see less money in the years to come. However, the June 2015 preliminary forecast findings show an uptick in the primary sources of the SHF: DMV, Motor Carrier, and Motor Fuels. If this forecast holds true, we may escape the session without a decrease in our SHF revenues.
AOC and its partners will continue to push for a transportation package in the near future. AOC’s proposed formula for allocation of any new state highway fund revenues to counties will be included as we move forward.
Aside from the failed transportation package, there were some investments made in the system:
- Connect Oregon VI was funded at $45 million rather than the $58.6 million that was anticipated or the $100 million that was initially intended for Connect Oregon programs at its inception.
- $35 million in general fund bonds have been slated for ODOT Highway improvements. These include: $17 million for US 26 – 116th to 136th; $7 million for OR 126 – Eugene to Florence; $1.5 million for US 26 – Warm Springs; $2.5 million for 1-5 cable barriers – Southern Oregon; $3 million for OR 34 – I-5 to Corvallis; and $4 million for I-84 Pendleton to La Grande.
On a more positive note, Community & Economic Development fared a bit better. Here are some of the highlights:
- $40 million in general fund bonds have been set aside for affordable housing.
- $7 million was infused into the Brownfields Revolving Account; legislation passed allowing local governments to create land banks to deal with brownfields in their communities.
- $10 million was awarded to the Port of Coos Bay to acquire, construct or improve the Coos Bay rail link.
- $2.5 million was provided to the new Oregon Main Street Revitalization Grant Program Fund.
- The cap on the number of Enterprise Zones (EZ) has been removed, making it easier to create or expand EZs.
- A Task Force on the Willamette Falls Navigation Canal and Locks will be created to study issues relating to repair, reopening and operations of the canal and locks; $7.5 million was allocated for the Willamette Falls Riverwalk.
- Funding was provided for Regional Solutions:
- $12 million to the Regional Infrastructure Fund for Regional Solutions projects;
- Regional Solutions coordinator positions, five of which are of limited duration; the Governor’s Office will need to present a staffing plan in February 2016.
- $2 million in total operations support for RAIN.
More information will be provided on Regional Solutions and other topics as soon as we can catch our breath!
AOC Policy Manager Mary Stern navigates transportation issues along with community and economic development.