As the Oregon Legislature inches toward adopting cap-and-trade legislation, problems in the proposed law remain. A biggie is this: The state constitution requires that all fuel taxes be used for public highways and roads for construction, repairs and maintenance or for roadside rest areas.

State Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, hopes to change that. He sees the new revenue the way most of the current crop of lawmakers do, as something to be taken in by state government and spent as lawmakers see fit. To get that power, he’s talking about asking Oregonians to change the constitution to give the Legislature more freedom to spend fuel taxes.

Unless the constitution is changed, that can’t happen.

That means the state cannot use millions of dollars of the new revenue derived from the higher gas prices from the carbon tax bill on anything but roads. Lawmakers would like to use that money to help folks buy electric cars, to build public transit systems or to help truck drivers purchase new, fuel-efficient engines.

We’ve got a better suggestion than changing the constitution. Lawmakers should find a way to make the carbon cap revenue-neutral. It should return every dime to Oregonians. Oregonians should decide how to spend it, not lawmakers. Models of how a carbon tax would work nationally have recommended that approach — giving the revenue to Americans, dividing it up per capita. It would soften the impact of the increases in fuel costs, build support for the tax and give citizens, not lawmakers, control.

There are various other models for doing it. British Columbia offers an example. It added a carbon tax to fuel prices in 2008, but at the same time it reduced corporate and personal income taxes, according to the New York Times. The tax has cut emissions — people are driving more fuel efficient cars — but hasn’t killed the economy.

Oregon legislators would be better off putting a rebate plan into the existing bill than to try to persuade that once again, lawmakers know best how to spend our money.

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