Portland mayor supports sales tax amid street fee backlash

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Portland Mayor Charlie Hales revealed to KATU on Thursday that he would support a sales tax if the city doesn't adopt a street fee, which he insists is needed to repair Portland's crumbling streets.

Hales told KATU's Steve Dunn that he would support a half cent retail sales tax as one option if the controversial street fee does not move forward.

"My personal favorite, if I got to decide this all by myself without any other considerations, I would be in favor of a general retail sales tax," Hales said. "I think we're crazy in the state of Oregon not to have one. It means we have to have high property taxes, high state income taxes and lots of little nickel and dime fees like this because we don't have a sales tax."

Hales' consideration comes several weeks after a backlash against his proposed street fee, which he and Commissioner Steve Novick said would raise up to $53 million per year for street improvements, sidewalks and safety work at dangerous intersections. Hales has said most of the money for street maintenance comes from the federal gas tax, which he said is stagnant. He also cited a lack of sufficient revenue as a lingering problem.

City leaders tried to pass a fee on to households and businesses without a public vote and it triggered a public backlash.

Recently, Hales and Novick pulled a City Council vote on the residential fee charging households $144 a year. The vote was delayed until November.

It appears as though Hales contradicted himself on the topic of a sales tax. The On Your Side Investigators noticed a tweet on Hales' twitter account, which stated "Talking to TV stations after public meeting. Not willing to have sales tax here, rejected 9 times, so non-starter."

Talking to TV stations after public meeting. Not willing to have sales tax here, rejected 9 times, so non-starter

Charlie Hales (@MayorPDX) June 24, 2014

It was time-stamped three days ago.

KATU asked Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes about the apparent contradiction Friday. He said Hales was still supportive of the sales tax but was commenting on how wildly unpopular the idea of a sales tax has been in the past.

The mayor's office pointed out Hales' consideration for a sales tax is just preliminary at this point. No formal proposal has been drawn up and no details have been hashed out, for instance, if the sales tax would be Portland-specific or expand to the entire state.

What do Portland Commissioners think about a sales tax?

The On Your Side Investigators contacted every city commissioner. Only Novick provided a response by Friday evening.

"Novick's preference would be an income tax," Bryan Hockaday said, Novick's policy adviser. "We're not sure how much political appetite there is for either of those ideas."

Hockaday also said Novick had not drawn up any real details yet and is still crunching numbers as they continue to work through the process.

For a complete look at the mayor's position, watch his full interview with Steve Dunn this Sunday on "Your Voice, Your Vote" at 9 a.m. on KATU News.