Sanderson likes sunset clause, voter input; Still questions allocation of existing funds & diesel exemption

It was her fight against an unfair and poorly applied tax that led Ann Sanderson to the Portland political arena in the first place. Her candidacy for Portland City Council finds her still leading the fight to find the right way to fix Portland’s streets.

Sanderson first came into the public eye in 2014 when she led a community group against a street tax proposed by Commissioner Steve Novick and Mayor Charlie Hales. The group was a coalition of people from very different political backgrounds; some who were against all taxes, some who were against the City’s fiscal mismanagement, and some who believed that it was the particulars of the street fee that made it so devastating.

(Introduced in May 2014, the proposal was changed by Novick and Hales no less than 5 times under broad community pressure. After saying they’d give Portlanders the chance to pick a proposal at the ballot box, the proposed measure was pulled, now seemingly for good. The city backtracked, hoping to eventually pull money from a state transportation package, one that now won’t be addressed in Salem until sometime in 2017.)

Instead, Portland voters will go to the polls in May to decide on a 10-cent per gallon gas tax. While this proposal marks progress, Sanderson still has significant reservations.

“It’s true that the gas tax has a lot of the criteria that I started proposing early on in the Street Fee fight. The administrative costs are low, it has a sunset, and it’s being presented to the voters to decide. On those grounds, while I don’t support the tax I am not opposed to it because the voters will ultimately get to decide for themselves,” she said.

“But where is all the money that we are already giving them going? Why isn’t there more emphasis on paving, if that’s what is causing the increasing backlog? Why not include diesel trucks and buses that cause the most damage? How can we trust them with this money, based on their track record?”

In fact, it’s the exclusion of residential and commercial diesel vehicles from the proposed tax that has spurred cries of favoritism from those opposed to the measure. By some estimates, just taxing residential diesel vehicles could mean about $6 million more for street repair over the 4-year life of the tax. Adding commercial vehicles could produce even more revenue.

Sanderson says her position is more nuanced than the media portrays.

“While I don’t support the tax, I am not opposed to it, because the voters will ultimately get to decide for themselves.  At this point, I feel my best service to the people of Portland is to get elected to ensure that we don’t find ourselves in this kind of crisis over funding basic services again.”