PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — TriMet and Oregon’s smaller transit agencies want lawmakers to let them spend payroll tax dollars on basic operations instead of expanding service and converting diesel fleets to lower-emission vehicles.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that under a 2017 transportation bill, Oregon lawmakers added a 0.1% tax on employer payrolls statewide to enhance public transit. But agencies now say they need the money to shore up their core budgets and avoid layoffs.
Transit agencies lobbied lawmakers on that front Monday during a legislative hearing of the Joint Committee on Transportation. TriMet, the Eugene-area’s Lane Transit District and the nonprofit Oregon Transit Association told lawmakers COVID-19’s effect on ridership will likely continue for months if not years, and more financial tools are critical.
The request comes as agencies are still seeing ridership woes – TriMet saw declines of upward of 70% during the depths of the pandemic – but are slowly starting to regain ground. But, expansion isn’t in the cards anytime soon, they said.
“I do know we’re going to have to reduce service,” TriMet general manager Doug Kelsey said. “What I don’t know is how far we have to fall.”
Without legislative action, the money would still be distributed. TriMet’s spokeswoman, Roberta Alststadt, said it “doesn’t make sense for TriMet to expand service” with those funds “while we have to cut existing services funded with our general fund.”
Aurora Jackson, general manager of Lane Transit District, said their agency had to eliminate more than 50 jobs, and it expects to rip through the $25 million it received from the federal stimulus package quickly. “Without another round of funding, we will be forced to make even tougher decisions next year,” Jackson said.