By Taylor W. Anderson

The Bulletin

Invited or attending

Legislators

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem

Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland

Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Eugene

Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay

Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose

Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario

Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas

Oregon Transportation Commission

Tammy Baney, chairwoman of the commission and a Deschutes County commissioner

Sean O’Hollaren, vice president for government and public affairs, Nike

Business, Environmental and Community Groups

John Carter, chairman emeritus, Oregon Business Council

Duncan Wyse, president, Oregon Business Council

Bill Furman, president, The Greenbrier Companies

Stephan Bird, president and CEO, PacifiCorp

Andrea Durbin, executive director, Oregon Environmental Council

Jeff Allen, executive director, Drive Oregon

Jason Miner, 1000 Friends of Oregon

John Mohlis, executive secretary, Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council

John Rakowitz, director of public and strategic affairs, Associated General Contractors-Oregon

Bob Russell, vice president of government affairs, Oregon Trucking Association

Bill Wyatt, executive director, Port of Portland

Annette Price, director of government affairs, Pacific Power

Craig Campbell, lobbyist, AAA

Allyn Ford, CEO, Roseburg

Jay Clemens, president and CEO, Associated Oregon Industries

Ryan Deckert, president, Oregon Business Association

Sandi McDonough, president and CEO, Portland Business Alliance

Dave Hauser, president, Eugene Chamber of Commerce

Brad Hicks, president and CEO, Chamber of Medford/Jackson County

Sandy Stephenson, director of finance, Bend Chamber of Commerce

Governor’s Transportation Vision Panel

Gregg Kantor, panel chairman and president and CEO, NW Natural Gas

Oregon Transportation Forum

Drew Hagedorn, president, Oregon Transportation Forum

Association of Oregon Counties and League of Oregon Cities

Mary Stern, transportation policy manager, Association of Oregon Counties

Craig Honeyman, legislative director, League of Oregon Cities

SALEM — Work on a state roads funding package that has been among the top political topics since 2014 is beginning in earnest Wednesday, with a group of powerful lawmakers and top business executives heading to Portland to meet with the governor.

The meeting marks the latest inch toward assembling a funding package that probably will generate and funnel billions of dollars to maintain and rebuild local, county and state roads, bridges, ports and railways, many of which are at or past their useful lifespans.

The list of invited guests also shows Gov. Kate Brown is tapping some of the state’s top business leaders in a move to gain momentum ahead of the 2017 legislative session after a last-ditch effort to fund roads failed in 2015.

“If anything, we’re starting with just enough time, because what you’re trying to do is express to the state of Oregon and the people in it that there’s a need and to ensure that everybody agrees with you,” said Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, and a member of the newest transportation group.

Bentz is among the foremost lawmakers on transportation in Salem. He said for lawmakers to actually cross the finish line in 2017, work needs to begin now and include a wide group of interests. If any interest group in Oregon is left unhappy with an eventual deal, the taxes and fees needed to pay for it are subject to a ballot referral and voter rejection.

“At this stage I would say look, find who it is that is likely to hold this bill hostage for whatever purpose, and say, ‘Hey, let’s make it work,’” said Bentz, who was key to negotiating the last package that passed, in 2009.

Wednesday’s meeting comes without hype from Brown’s office or the Democratic leadership attending. Several members who were invited said they had no details and didn’t know what to expect from the meeting.

Oregon businesses play a major role in talks about raising taxes, vehicle registration fees and other revenue to pay for a roads package, and lawmakers frequently appeal to business interests to shore up support. Brown is convening the meeting in Portland at Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency.

“In southwest Oregon we’ve been trying to reactivate the short (railroad) lines over Siskiyou Pass,” said Allyn Ford, CEO of Roseburg, a wood products company, who was invited but can’t attend. “My pitch will be probably more on the rail side than it would on the highways.”

While it’s clear businesses will be at the table for the initial meeting — Brown invited 20 members of business and so-called community groups — it’s not clear Brown and other Democratic leaders have pulled in a wider group of Republicans. Two Republican members of a newly created joint committee focused on transportation funding were invited along with five Democrats. No one from House or Senate Republican leadership was on the list of invitees.

“They’re definitely not communicating with Republican leadership,” said Paul Rainey, the Senate Republican chief of staff, who added Senate Republicans remain opposed to raising the state’s gas tax unless the Legislature also alters the state’s controversial new biofuels law known as Clean Fuels.

Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality hasn’t studied how much gas prices may rise as a result of the Clean Fuels law Democrats approved in 2015 that spurs the use of plant-based fuels in Oregon gasoline. But the state has cited a study that estimated price hikes between 4 and 19 cents a gallon in California because of its version of the Clean Fuels law.

That potential jump in prices, which the Oregon law’s supporters dispute, led Republicans and oil and trucking groups to tie together the 2015 transportation effort and repealing Clean Fuels. They opposed raising revenue for a transportation package as long as Clean Fuels was on the books.

Brown that year called a group of legislators together to come up with a proposal to repeal and replace the Clean Fuels law. After that deal blew up in the waning days of the 2015 session, Brown and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said legislators must view funding roads and the Clean Fuels law separately moving forward.

In an apparent signal that Brown is sticking to that plan, Paul Romain and Brian Doherty, oil industry lobbyists who have actively worked to dismantle the biofuels law, weren’t invited to Wednesday’s meeting.

Bob Russell, vice president of government affairs for the Oregon Trucking Association and also an opponent in 2015 of the Clean Fuels law, was invited and will attend but declined to comment and referred questions to Brown’s office.

Ryan Deckert, president of the Oregon Business Association and a former Democratic legislator, will attend as well.

Central Oregon also has a big voice in the lead-up to a potential package.

The Governor’s Transportation Vision Panel recently released the results of months of work and called for investing in rural highways, specifically noting the likelihood of beefing up the capacity of U.S. Highway 97, which runs through Bend, to potentially alleviate clogged highways in Western Oregon.

The panel also called for making Oregon an “innovation hub,” including finding ways to work with private companies to spur development of the costly infrastructure needed for electric vehicle charging stations.

Deschutes County Commissioner Tammy Baney, who chairs the Oregon Transportation Commission, was also invited to Wednesday’s meeting but can’t attend. Baney also co-chairs the governor’s vision panel, which is made up of dozens of business representatives and public officials who are looking at the need for a transportation package in 2017. Only a small handful of the panel was invited to the governor’s Wednesday meeting.

Stacy Stephenson, finance director of the Bend Chamber of Commerce, was invited but can’t attend. She said she’ll remain a key player in future discussions of a package.

Sen. Betsy Johnson, a Democrat from Scappoose and another key player in transportation both when the 2009 package passed and in recent years, said she was short on details of Wednesday’s meeting, but said it could mark a difference from the approach during the 2009 effort.

“What we did (in 2009) is instead of having a committee of a bazillion, we had a smaller committee and we knew everybody was going to be going back and checking with their respective boards and members,” Johnson said. “I think quite satisfactorily. We ended up with a package that passed.”

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,

tanderson@bendbulletin.com

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