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Originally published Monday, November 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Ore. governor ready to roll on job-creating roads plan

From the race for president down to contests for Oregon legislative seats, Democrats were elected last week on promises they would patch up a broken economy.

The Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. — From the race for president down to contests for Oregon legislative seats, Democrats were elected last week on promises they would patch up a broken economy.

Now, Oregon Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski and legislative leaders say they are ready to deliver with a big job-creating transportation package as a first step.

Today, Kulongoski will appear at a legislative hearing to make his case for a plan that could raise the state gas tax and vehicle fees to pay for road and bridge improvements and create thousands of new construction-related jobs.

It's what voters had in mind when they embraced Barack Obama and other Democrats in last Tuesday's election, Kulongoski said in an interview.

"We need to put people back to work," the governor said. "And you can accomplish more good on that score by investing in public infrastructure than you can throwing public money at banks and financial institutions."

A new state jobless report due out today likely will provide more grim news about Oregon's unemployment rate — already above the national average — but it also could give added support for Kulongoski's call for creating public-works jobs.

Kulongoski isn't giving details about the transportation package he will submit to lawmakers in January.

His package will draw from recommendations made by a committee that looked at short-term and long-term steps needed to address the state's $1.3 billion transportation-maintenance shortfall.

Among other things, the panel called for a gas-tax increase of between 2 and 8 cents a gallon, doubling the vehicle-titling fee to $110, raising the registration fee from $27 a year to $81 a year and creating a $100-a-year fee for titling cars new to the state.

Raising the gas tax, in particular, likely will spark considerable debate in the Legislature.

The state's 24-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax is still the biggest single source of money for Oregon's road and bridge program. Moves to increase it haven't been popular. Oregonians trounced the most recent attempt — a nickel-a-gallon increase in 2000.

But the path to a possible gas-tax increase became easier in last Tuesday's election when Democrats won 36 seats in the Oregon House, and thus the ability to raise taxes or fees without Republican help.

Democratic state Rep. Dave Hunt, the next speaker of the Oregon House, noted that the last time the issue was discussed, in 2007, House Republicans were able to block a proposed $10 fee on new license plates to pay for transportation improvements.

While Republicans are leery of a big gas-tax increase and tend to favor moves to create jobs through the private sector, they are open in the current economic crisis to discussions of public-works projects, said House Republican Leader Bruce Hanna.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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