'Highway fiscal cliff' could slash Oregon jobs

'Highway fiscal cliff' could slash Oregon jobs

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by Kyle Iboshi, KGW Staff

kgw.com

Posted on June 18, 2014 at 5:58 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 19 at 10:37 AM

PORTLAND -- Road crews are bracing for a 'highway fiscal cliff’ that could cost Oregon nearly $500 million, job losses and bring new road projects to a screeching halt.

"We are definitely holding our breath, we are waiting very anxiously," said Travis Brouwer, Assistant Director of the Oregon Department of Transportation. "If federal funding goes away then we will see a very substantial reduction in the amount of work that we can do for Oregon's roads."

The Obama administration has warned the Highway Trust Fund will be insolvent by August.

More: Senators address Highway Trust Fund issues

In Oregon, that means $470 million in federal funds for highway programs would be eliminated in 2015. Existing road projects will likely be completed but new road projects will be canceled or delayed.

ODOT estimates 4,700 jobs will be lost.

Money for the Highway Trust Fund comes from the federal gas tax. The 18.4-cents-a-gallon gas tax hasn't been raised in 21 years.

Revenue has slowed because cars are more efficient and people are driving less. Over the past decade, Congress has transferred general fund revenue to the trust fund. But now, that money has run dry.

"This is real. It is a long term problem," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon). "A lot of us have been talking about it for years."

DeFazio wants to revamp the way Americans pay for transportation projects.

"Let's do away with the retail gas tax. People don't like it and let's move the tax up to the oil companies. They're making obscene profits. Let's put the tax on a barrel of oil," said DeFazio.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden said members of the Senate Finance Committee are weighing a plan to fund a six-month infusion into the trust fund. Wyden hopes this short-term fix will be used as a springboard for longer term funding.

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