Kulongoski Floats Insurance Fee to Fund Oregon State Police

September 11, 2006

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has floated the idea of a state fee on car insurance policies to help put more Oregon State Police troopers on the state’s roads and highways.

The Democratic governor also said he is halting a state study into whether state police patrol duties should be transferred to county sheriffs. The study, ordered by the 2005 Legislature, is “a waste of time,” Kulongoski said.

Both moves drew immediate criticism from Republican gubernatorial contender Ron Saxton, who took particular aim at a new fee on car insurance.

At a news conference, Kulongoski said he was still working with law enforcement officials, legislators and others to come up with a funding plan in the 2007 Legislature to add 125 more state troopers.

Proposals by Kulongoski to pay for more troopers have failed in the past two legislative sessions.

But Kulongoski said Friday that the shortage of state troopers has become so acute that he thinks lawmakers might approve a car insurance surcharge to restore 24-hour, seven-day-a-week patrol coverage around Oregon to protect public safety.

In the 2003 session, Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, co-sponsored a similar bill that would have imposed a new fee on car insurance policies averaging about $35 a year to pay for more state police. The bill died because of Republican opposition to any new taxes or fees.

Saxton said while he, too, wants more troopers on the roads, Kulongoski’s suggestion of a new car insurance fee amounts to a tax increase.

“Raising taxes for everything is exactly what’s wrong with this governor,” the Republican gubernatorial contender said.

Kulongoski, meanwhile, announced that no further money or effort would be spent on the study involving turning over state patrol duties to local sheriffs.

“Spending tax dollars on a study to reduce the presence of state troopers on our highways is not a rational priority,” the governor said. “This study makes no sense.”

A top House Republican later criticized Kulongoski for pulling the plug on the study and said the Democratic governor “should work with, not against” the Legislature on the issue.

“Everyone supports improving public safety on Oregon’s highways,” said House Majority Leader Wayne Scott of Canby. “Rather than working with the Legislature to improve government performance, it seems the governor would rather make policy through press conferences.”

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