By the Numbers

Based on public feedback since publishing our infographic, we’ve found an opportunity to more accurately portray this complicated information. We are sharing before and after images of our correction to show how we have improved our infographic based on public input.

InfograhpicRevision

We’d like to share our reasons for making the corrections we did:

  • Categorizing bonds as a user fee. We originally categorized “bonds” as a non-user fee. Based on the source of revenue that ODOT relies on to repay bonds, this was inaccurate.
  • “Transportation” costs versus “road” costs. The first version of our graphic implied to some that ODOT’s revenue addresses “road” costs, when the picture is actually much more broad. The revenue also pays for things such as trails and other transportation facilities out of the on-road right-of-way.
  • Percentage of User Fees versus General Funds. In order to make sure we’re categorizing User Fees and General Funds accurately, here’s a list of what we’ve included in each category, based on information from ODOT’s 2011-2013 financial reporting:
    • User Fees
      • Motor Fuels Tax
      • Part of Federal Funds (portion from Highway Trust Fund)
      • Weight Mile Tax
      • Driver and Vehicle License & Fees
      • Bond/COP Sales
    • General Funds
      • Part of Federal Funds (portion not from Highway Trust Fund)
      • Other Transfers to ODOT (includes cigarette tax, local government match on construction projects, Parks & Rec fee collection)
      • General Fund
      • Lottery Proceeds
      • Sales and Charges for Service
      • All Other Revenue

Comment

Comments (9)

  1. 9watts Permalink  | Nov 13, 2013 05:16pm

    Can you explain how you came to reclassify bonds as a user fee? This is counterintuitive.

    Thanks.

    • Will Vanlue Permalink  | Nov 14, 2013 09:09am

      We originally classified bonds as a non-user fee because we looked at it from the perspective that those funds come from bond-issuers, not user fees. That makes sense on the face of it, right? Well, we since learned that ODOT categorizes bond repayment as coming from user fees, which is why we corrected the numbers.

      • 9watts Permalink  | Nov 14, 2013 09:50am

        Right. That much I got from your revisions. I’m just not clear on how this actually works. Is there an ODOT document or more thorough elaboration of how the money flows somewhere? Someone obviously understands this in great detail, and I’d be curious to learn everything they know.

        Thanks.

  2. sam Permalink  | Nov 14, 2013 07:38pm

    I really think there should be one of those “The More You Know” Public service announcements about how municipal bonds actually work. :)

    Here is what I know:
    Bonds are sold in order to generate money to fund projects that otherwise would be too expensive to pay for out of ODOTs normal yearly budget. For example if ODOT wanted to build a new 1 billion dollar bridge, selling bonds is only way they could spread out the total cost over many years so that ODOT can continue to fund normal operations AND build a 1 billion dollar bridge at the same time.

    BUT bonds work like loans, you must pay every penny back plus interest.

    Since gas taxes, registration fees and other user fees that make up the state highway fund are what repay the Bonds, it makes sense to list the bonds as a user fee rather than the state’s general funds, which is not used to repay those particular bonds.

    ——End of bond talk 101——-

    Let’s focus more on the hypothetical 1 billion dollar bridge example, because I think it illustrates an impending issue that Portland cyclists will have to face sooner or later.

    Lets say that the hypothetical 1 billion dollar bridge is an amazing new bridge of the future that crosses the Willamette and can carry cars, pedestrians and bicycles safely and efficiently in there own separate lanes.

    Now let’s say that if the bicycle portion of the new bridge is eliminated the bridge could be built for only 750 million.

    My question is: Where is the extra 250 million going to come from if bicycles never have to pay any additional fees to offset the addition cost?

    My fear is that this type of situation will limit ODOTs funding of new multimodal projects. If ODOT is expected to serve an ever diversifying multimodal transportation system then there funding sources should reflect that diversity. Otherwise ODOT’s budget will shrink (mostly because of lower gas tax revenue, and few less registered vehicles) as more and more people commute by bike rather than by car.

  3. 9watts Permalink  | Nov 15, 2013 12:25pm

    Sam,
    thanks for the explanation.

    “Since gas taxes, registration fees and other user fees that make up the state highway fund are what repay the Bonds, it makes sense to list the bonds as a user fee rather than the state’s general funds, which is not used to repay those particular bonds.”

    My question would be – do we know this to be so? Just because ODOT says so gives me very little confidence. The real purchasing power of gas tax receipts has been declining since day 1 (1993 I think). The idea that we are repaying not only the principle but the interest on these bonds with these declining sources of funding is to me highly implausible.
    I’ll note that Washington State has apparently managed to totally screw up it’s efforts in this regard, as reported on bikeportland (citing and OSPIRG study earlier this year:
    “Washington is in even worse shape. After years of denial, the state recently slashed long-term revenue forecasts by billions of dollars. But since the state back-loaded interest payments on many of its highway bonds, its debt obligations will rise even if fuel tax receipts dip. Within just a few years, more than 70 percent of the state’s gas tax receipts will go to pay off debts on projects that have already been completed—leaving precious little gas tax revenue for maintenance of existing roads, let alone new construction.” (emphasis mine)

    http://bikeportland.org/2013/05/14/report-end-of-driving-boom-requires-a-new-direction-86720#comment-4019833

    As for your bridge example, I would look at this from a different angle. The bike portion isn’t an add-on that might hypothetically cost a quarter billion dollars, but a derivative expenditure related almost entirely to the cost and engineering requirements of the main (car/truck) bridge. Those of us who bike only need infrastructure attention because those in cars keep running us over, or off the road.

    The new bridge across the Willamette costs plenty but I guarantee that most of the cost is related to supporting light rail, not to hold up people walking and biking.If that were our goal we could come up with a design that probably cost 1% as much and weighed 1% as much, too.

  4. 9watts Permalink  | Nov 15, 2013 12:31pm

    Interesting. Not the whole picture, but some of it.
    http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/jta/fueltax_factsheet.pdf

  5. 9watts Permalink  | Dec 22, 2013 08:37pm

    I’m still looking for confirmation of what ODOT claimed, that principal and interest on bonds they issue are repaid from gas taxes and related user fees, and how this is working out. Somewhere ODOT has a document that spells out the dollars and cents corresponding to these payments, and I’d like to have a closer look. Anyone?

  6. 9watts Permalink  | Apr 01, 2014 11:18am

    still looking…
    from my earlier comment last December:

    I’m still looking for confirmation of what ODOT claimed, that principal and interest on bonds they issue are repaid from gas taxes and related user fees, and how this is working out. Somewhere ODOT has a document that spells out the dollars and cents corresponding to these payments, and I’d like to have a closer look. Anyone?

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