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2010 TriMet ballot measure

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TriMet's 2010 ballot measure, rejected by 54 percent of Metro-area voters on Nov. 2, 2010, asked whether to renew the agency's $125 million bond issue from 1990, which extended the Blue Line to Hillsboro, and put the proceeds toward four things:

  • faster bus replacements
  • faster LIFT fleet upgrades
  • approximately 300 bus stop improvements
  • indirectly, the measure would have freed about $50 million for TriMet's general fund over 20 years, which the agency says it would spend "to either avoid additional service cuts if the economy continues to decline, or to restore service"

If approved, the measure would have raised property taxes by $8 annually per $100,000 taxable value.

The measure was approved 54-46 percent in Multnomah County but lost by wider margins in Washington County, where 56 percent voted no, and Clackamas County, where 60 percent rejected it.

It was the third consecutive TriMet ballot measure to be rejected.


[edit] Directly spent on disability access

The 2010 bond measure would have raised $125 million. Up to 70 percent of that money could have gone toward speeding up replacement of TriMet's fixed-route bus fleet, of which the agency hoped to retire 150 buses at a 2010 cost of $425,000 to $440,000 per replacement vehicle, according to TriMet executive Carolyn Young.

The bus replacements would have led to faster retirement of buses that lack air conditioning, kneeling ability or use bus chair lifts instead of bus acccess ramps.

Up to 20 percent would have gone toward improving bus stops that are unfriendly to people with disabilities, at a cost of up to $150,000 per stop. And up to 15 percent could have gone to replacing and upgrading LIFT vans, at a cost of $90,000 per vehicle.

[edit] Indirectly added to general fund

Although TriMet describes the tax as a benefit for seniors and riders with disabilities, the ballot issue would also have given TriMet about $50 million over 20 years to spend however it wants, TriMet executives said in multiple interviews.

Possible uses could have included service restoration, fuel purchases or interest payments on the Orange Line to Milwaukie.

This is because TriMet's bus purchase schedule already included the bus purchases and LIFT improvements the ballot issue would pay for, Young said in an Aug. 12 interview. Those purchases added up to 40 to 50 percent of the ballot issue's $125 million.

"It would go to the general fund," spokeswoman Mary Fetsch confirmed Aug. 25.

Not all of the backfilled money would have fallen directly into the general fund, because some LIFT vans would have been improved in part using federal grants.

TriMet's operations budget, Young said, will be under increasing stress because the agency must pay for capital costs put off to preserve service during the 2007-2010 recession.

Even so, up to 20 percent of the new bond revenue would have gone toward bus stop access improvements, a clear benefit for people with disabilities and an expense that TriMet does not already have in its budget.

"The stops aren't programmed in the budget," Young said Aug. 11. "The buses are."

[edit] Arguments for passage

[edit] Current buses are old and expensive to maintain

TriMet's bus fleet is "one of the oldest in the country," Young said at an Aug. 11 TriMet board of directors meeting. Without new money for buses, the fleet's oldest buses couldn't be replaced until 2012, when they would be at least 24 years old, 50 percent older than their intended lifespan.

The cost of maintaining those buses "cannibalizes" bus service, Young said.

[edit] Better bike racks might appear sooner

Faster replacement of the bus fleet might also increase the speed at which TriMet can install three-bike bus racks, currently in development.

[edit] Better access is needed for people with disabilities

At the Aug. 11 meeting, the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition, Ride Connection, OPAL and Elders in Action all spoke in favor of access improvements to the TriMet system.

"Transit stop improvements are the low-hanging fruit," OPAL co-director Jonathan Ostar said. "We look forward with interest to partnering with TriMet on this."

[edit] The measure would commit TriMet to future bus purchases

If TriMet continues to buy new buses out of its general fund, it might postpone the purchases at any time in order to preserve service. The ballot measure would require TriMet to spend a certain amount on buses over 20 years.

[edit] Arguments against passage

[edit] Shifts core service to property taxpayers

Even as he said that he supported better bus stops, Ostar added Aug. 11 that TriMet was shifting responsibility for one of its core services -- mobility for people with disabilities -- away from businesses and toward property owners.

"What you're doing is requiring voters to pass a bond measure for absolutely essential service ... things that we have payroll tax revenue to pay for," Ostar said. "You're using payroll tax revenue to pay for service that is not essential -- light rail service -- and leaving essential services to the voters."

[edit] Stimulus money wasn't spent on buses

Conservative writer Peggy Bodner criticized TriMet Aug. 12 for "spending $18.9 (million) stimulus dollars on wasteful projects like bus wash stations, an alternative energy generation station, and bike lockers" instead of new buses.

Carolyn Young, of TriMet, said Aug. 12 that the agency spent much of its federal stimulus money on local construction projects rather than new buses because "buying new buses creates jobs in St. Cloud, Minn., not Portland Ore."

[edit] TriMet's rail improvements have been needlessly expensive

In an Aug. 17 interview with Portland Afoot, transit activist and former TriMet planner Jim Howell said he wasn't inclined to support the bond measure because he felt the agency had overspent on recent light rail projects.

Howell said the Green Line should not have been built along a highway, the Orange Line should have run directly south from Rose Quarter Transit Center rather than cutting into downtown and back at great expense, and the realignment of the Green Line and Yellow Line onto the transit mall reduced rail capacity while costing "a quarter of a billion dollars."

Howell added that he thinks TriMet will use the $50 million freed up by the bond measure to help pay interest on loans for the Portland-Milwaukie light rail project, when it should be spent on bus service.

"I like transit," Howell said. "I think you need a lot more money for transit, but I think TriMet has not been good stewards of the money they have."

[edit] Management of campaign

TriMet plans to recruit an outside group to manage and fundraise for its political campaign, according to Fetsch and Young.

Fetsch said Sept. 7 that the campaign's brand name will be "Yes for Transit." TriMet has not polled on the issue, she said.

[edit] Endorsements and opponents

[edit] Willamette Pedestrian Coalition: support

The Willamette Pedestrian Coalition endorsed the measure, director Steph Routh said Sept. 9.

"There are a lot of substandard bus stop facilities in the Portland metro region, and the bond measure would improve 300 bus stops," Routh said. "That gets a huge thumbs-up from us."

Routh added that the ballot issue would move bus purchases out of TriMet's general fund, meaning the agency wouldn't have to choose between service levels and bus replacements in the future.

"These buses are old and decrepit and need to be upgraded," she said. "To replace them out of the general fund would increase the probability that there are difficult decisions that need to be made involving service."

[edit] Elders in Action Commission: support

The Elders in Action Commission, a group of volunteer seniors organized by the advocacy group Elders in Action, endorsed the ballot issue, Civic Involvement Coordinator Tara Krugel said Sept. 9.

"We have a lot of seniors that would like to ride just the regular bus and MAX and can't, because of lack of adequate facilities," Krugel said. "Then they have to take the TriMet LIFT, which is $29 a ride" in TriMet's internal costs.

Krugel said she "hadn't really heard" that 40 percent of the ballot issue's value would fall into TriMet's general fund.

"We're behind the spirit of what we were told the bond measure would be," she said.

Elders in Action itself did not take an official stance.

[edit] Ride Connection: neutral

Ride Connection, an education and service nonprofit for seniors and people with disabilities, will remain officially neutral on the issue, though it had supported the decision to put the issue on the ballot.

Development Manager James Uyeda said Sept. 9 that TriMet did not ask for Ride Connection's endorsement and the group had never endorsed ballot issues before.

Though 501(c)3 groups are legally allowed to endorse ballot measures as part of their missions, Uyeda said the group tends to avoid all political activity "to be safe."

"We just tend to stay neutral, respecting the rights of our individual employees and board members," Uyeda said.

[edit] Oregonian: opposition

Portland's largest newspaper editorialized against the ballot issue Oct. 12.

"The measure would raise the agency's standard of service for those who are most dependent on TriMet to get around," The Oregonian's editorial writers said. "This is, indisputably, a worthy goal."

"But should the city or TriMet really go into debt to pay for these things?" the writers continued. "Approving a bond measure is like buying something with a credit card. It may look appealing, but it multiplies the cost of a purchase by adding interest. ... TriMet and the city of Portland should have been rigorously saving more, all along, toward vehicle and equipment replacement costs. They should have been consistently setting more money aside in a 'sinking' fund or an 'asset replacement' account."

[edit] Willamette Week: support

"We can think of no long-term investment that is more important for the livability of this region than a robust transit system," the paper wrote. "The fact that this measure is geared toward those most dependent on mass transit is simply smart."

[edit] Portland Mercury: support

"Without this $125 million bond to replace 150 old buses with new disability-friendly ones, create more bus service for elderly and disabled people, and fix up 300 bus stops that have no sidewalks or benches, then TriMet Chief Neil McFarlane says the transit agency will make up the difference by slashing service," the paper wrote. "For that reason, we say vote yes."

[edit] Portland Tribune: support

"The region would have better and more accessible bus services for elderly and disabled riders – services required by the federal government – and TriMet also would lower its costs," the paper wrote. "In turn, we think those savings could be used to help restore bus service that’s been cut."

[edit] Funding

As of Oct. 22, 69 percent of the funding for the ballot issue came from TriMet rail executives or companies with a financial interest in the Orange Line. See Portland Afoot's blog post on the issue.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] News articles about the ballot measure

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