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Politics Get Complicated Over Oregon Transportation Funding

Lawmakers have been gung-ho about passing a comprehensive transportation package since before the legislative session even started. But a bill to provide increased funding for roads and bridges has yet to be introduced. Mayors around the state recently sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to get it done before the session ends this summer.

Though bipartisan meetings seemed to be going well early on, those talks broke down in March when Democrats passed SB 324, an extension of the Oregon Clean Fuels Program. Governor Kate Brown signed it into law March 12, over the objections of Republicans.

Now, the Clean Fuels Program is being used as a bargaining chip in negotiations over transportation funding. Republicans are asking for a repeal of SB 324, but it's still unclear which options are being considered since lawmakers are negotiating behind closed doors.

“It's highly unusual for the legislature to repeal a bill that they passed just a few weeks earlier in the session to great fanfare," according to OPB's Salem reporter Chris Lehman. "But perhaps there are changes that can be made to …that would get enough people on board to pass a transportation package.”

Ryan Deckert, president and CEO of the Oregon Business Association, described a transportation infrastructure package as, "the biggest priority, I think, for the session in terms of jobs, in terms of impact on Oregonians' lives."

Jana Gastellum is the climate program director at the Oregon Environmental Council (OEC), an advocacy group that pushed for the SB 324. While she says that repealing the bill is a "nonstarter," the OEC is not opposed to tweaking the law.

“There were some conversations about additional ways to tighten up the consumer safety nets and we’d be happy to talk about those pieces,” she said.

Lehman pointed out that a transportation funding bill has yet to be drafted.

"It's mid-May and the session will be over by late June or early July," he said. "So, there's not a lot of time to put together an actual transportation package, even if everyone is on board."

Gastellum is optimistic about lawmakers' ability to get something drafted and passed before the end of the session.

"This is Oregon. We have a 'can do' attitude here and I think we can push forward a great transportation package this session," she said.

Deckert says if it can't happen before the last day of the session, he anticipates a special session to pass a transportation package.

“If I had to wager, I would wager on that,” he said.

Dave Blanchard


Copyright 2015 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Julie Sabatier