Around the County – 4/26/17

We Wind Up Paying Bigger Bills When GOP Shirks Responsibility

By Peter Toll

One of the problems with Republicans is the first thing they do is start dismantling stuff in an effort to “get government off our backs” and, at the same time, lower taxes. Republicans now controlling all branches of the federal government remind us of their short-sighted propensities daily.

The best local examples of this foolishness in office are John Ludlow and Tootie Smith, recently unelected Clackamas County Commissioners. They almost literally fiddled while the county’s roads and infrastructure all but collapsed around them over the past four years.

“What to do? What to do?” “Oh, gosh and gollies!” One can picture them cartoonishly as befuddled buffoons. It would be funny if it weren’t so pitiful. And we’re all paying for it now.

Elected on a “let the people decide” theme, they gave it a try, knowing it would fail. Twice.

First, before they won election in 2012, they asked the voters six years ago if they wanted to contribute just $5 per year to replace the all but collapsing Sellwood Bridge, the one engineers gave a score of “4” on a safety scale where “100” is safest possible. The measure failed badly, even though Clackamas County generates most of the daily traffic on that bridge.

So Ludlow and Tootie tried it again last year, asking the voters if they wanted a special tax to pay for county road maintenance, seeing as how we’re hundreds of millions of dollars behind. Again, the voters said, no, thank you, we’ll let you make those decisions; that’s why we elected you. Ludlow and Tootie passed.

Newly elected commissioner Ken Humberston is not afraid to act. He says the county is now looking at $300 million in road maintenance needs, a figure growing $17 million a year. And winter storms added at least $1.12 million. In fact, some of the roads were so broken down, the snow and ice all but knocked them out, and now they need more expensive replacement, not repair.

County Chair Jim Bernard is considering a vehicle registration fee to get maintenance on our 1,400 miles of county roads back on track. A fee can be added without a referral to the voters; a tax requires a deferral.

Do Humberston and Bernard and other commissioners enjoy this aspect of the job? Hardly.
But it is the responsible part, one which the tea party views with scorn and derision. Their concern about taxes ignores legitimate needs which government is obligated to provide.

So now we’ll be paying for Tea Party Folly, having put off what certainly should have been done years before and now costs a whole lot more.

Meanwhile, on a related transportation front, the Canby Ferry, an institution of a bygone era, is about finished. It is losing $400,000 a year in moving about 100 vehicles a day across the Willamette between Canby and Wilsonville.

Both Wilsonville and Canby are experiencing solid growth and the volume of vehicles going from one to the other is mounting. What to do? Again, Commissioner Bernard is leading: Build a modest bridge and let the motorists who use it pay for it with a bridge toll.

There are toll bridges from Oregon to Washington at Hood River, Cascade Locks and Astoria. If you want to save money and drive around, you’re free to do so. But if you think time is money, then pay the modest fee and enjoy what you’re paying for. That, after all, is the American way.


Peter Toll is a long-time county resident active in the Democratic Party. An independent financial advisor, he now lives in Lake Oswego.

1 thought on “Around the County – 4/26/17

  1. mary59

    A very good essay, thanks. The no new tax people have rejected every college bond at Mount Hood Community College since 1974, and yet so many Sandy/Welches/Gresham area residents send their kids there, or take training themselves to get higher paying jobs.

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