An informal look at economics, finance, and statistics
Misplaced priorities: Despite record revenues, Portland’s transportation bureau is broke
The Oregonian reports that the Portland Bureau of Transportation proposes to stop repaving major roads for the next five years as part of its plan to cut $16 million from its upcoming budget. Such cuts would add to an already growing backlog of paving projects.
(I have tried to see how much the Portland’s paving backlog has grown under the current mayor. However, it seems that the city’s transportation bureau has either stopped counting or stopped reporting the backlog.)
A press release issued by the mayor’s office explains, in part, why the transportation bureau must cut its budget:
In the face of lower-than-projected gas tax receipts, the Bureau of Transportation must make permanent, significant cuts to match expenditures to revenues. Impending cuts come on the heels of a decade of transportation cuts for the city.
Notice that the problem is lower than projected gas tax revenues. The problem is not less money. The problem is less money than expected. It’s a bit like someone booking a cruise because they are expecting a raise only to find the raise didn’t come through.
Despite the lower projections, last year Portland saw the highest gas tax revenues in more than a decade, due mainly to a six-cents-a-gallon gas tax hike that went into effect statewide in January 2011. Going forward, according to financial documents issued in November 2011, the city projects ever increasing gas tax revenues over the next five years.
It seems that Portland’s transportation bureau does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem. Even worse, some of the bureau’s biggest spending commitments have nothing to do with maintaining or improving streets:
Last year, the mayor set aside $8 million from new state gas tax revenue every year for 20 years (a total of $73.5 million), starting in 2013, to help fund the Sellwood Bridge rehab.
Over the next two years, the mayor chose to put $16 million of that new gas tax revenue into building new sidewalks.
The transportation bureau is also on the hook for $1.3 million a year for the Eastside Streetcar.
On top of that, the mayor has put the city in hock for $3.5 million a year (beginning in 2013) for debt service on the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail line ($3.5 million a year, starting in 2013, for a total of $55 million).