Disagreements Over Oregon Clean Fuels Program Could Resurface this Year Amid Need for Transportation Package

By Gordon Friedman, Oregon Live.

Weeks before lawmakers return to the Capitol for what's shaping up as a difficult 2017 session, one of their signature goals is facing serious challenges. 

A special committee that toured the state for months to craft plans for shoring up Oregon's transportation system has yet to agree on what a multimillion-dollar proposal should look like. They don't know which projects it will include. They can't say how those projects will be financed. 

They also aren't sure they can guarantee state officials will spend the money wisely. Instead, they're waiting for an audit that will tell them whether the Oregon Department of Transportation can manage a larger budget. 

Those concerns bubbled from interviews with lawmakers and during a hearing last month where legislators aired a long list of priorities alongside worries that reaching a complicated deal could take months. Because a deal would likely include a gas tax increase, any package would need bipartisan support. 

"It is troublesome that so much time has elapsed describing the problem," said Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, a key voice on transportation issues, "and we are still without a working draft of a bill."

Some of the problems that plagued a much-hyped plan two years ago -- chiefly, partisan disagreements over clean fuel standards -- may resurface this year. Lawmakers may also find tension as they face another looming problem: how to plug a $1.7 billion budget hole. 

And even if lawmakers do manage a deal, interest groups could rebel over any tax hikes, sending the package to voters.