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Poll: Oregon eager for self-service, grocery store liquor sales

Hands off that gas pump!

The quirks of life in the Beaver State might bemuse outsiders, but surely true-blue Oregonians cherish our time-honored idiosyncrasies, right?

It’s just not so, according to a new survey.

A poll by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, a project of DHM Research, found that a majority of state residents are ready to pump their own gas and buy a bottle of spirits at the local supermarket.

Just don’t expect them to vote in a sales tax, which three out of four here oppose.

“Support tends to increase among higher-income Oregonians, but no demographic groups reach 30% support for this policy change,” according to a DHM policy brief on a potential sales tax.

Here are the key findings:

Nearly two-thirds of Oregonians (63%) are in favor of allowing motorists to pump their own gas, rather than relying on an attendant. Demographics showing the strongest support include those making more than $100,000 per year (73%) and political conservatives (71%). Support is lowest among political moderates, pegged at 55%.

Even more unifying is the proposal to allow hard alcohol sales in grocery stores, instead of restricting them to state-licensed liquor stores. Roughly two-thirds (65%) support such an idea, including 70% of Democrats and 69% of those living outside the metro area and Willamette Valley. Those 65 and older registered the least support, with just 57% in favor.

Oregonians overwhelmingly gave the thumbs down to creating a new statewide sales tax, with 75% of residents in opposition. Demographics that most strongly rejected the idea include those without school-age children (79%), those earning less than $50,000 per year (73%), conservatives (79%) and those living in the outer suburbs (88%). Those making more than $100,000 per year were most in favor, but only 26% offered support.

The idea of paying a tax at the cash register became slightly more palatable when paired with a proposed reduction in the state income tax, with half opposed, one-third in favor and the remainder unsure. Opposition was strongest among those 65 and older (67%), while those with college education evinced the most support (40%).

At age 76, Bob Fankhauser remembers pumping thousands of dollars’ worth of gas at a service station in San Francisco — and that was when it only cost 25 cents per gallon.

“It’s always presented as, ‘if you pump your own gas, you’ll save money,’” said Fankhauser, who lives in the Garden Home area of Washington County. But he’s not buying the argument. “They charge you the same amount in Washington as they do in Oregon.”

Today, New Jersey is the only other state still requiring attendants, though Oregon lawmakers allowed rural residents to pump their own gas in 2018.

Fears of viral transmission early last year prompted a pilot project for self-service gas, because motorists feared being near gas station attendants might help spread the COVID-19 virus. But that pilot project didn’t last long, and the state soon returned to attendants-only service in May.

“I am sometimes a little annoyed that I can’t pump my own gas,” admitted Fankhauser, “but it provides employment to people who might not otherwise have it.”

On the topic of liquor sales, Southeast Portlander Suzanne Bader is in favor of loosening the rules slowly, potentially through a pilot program.

“I would not like to see it available in convenience stores or sold 24/7,” the 59-year-old said.

And the two survey respondents split on the topic of a sales tax, with Fankhauser in opposition, noting that a sales tax is “regressive” — that is, it puts the heaviest burden on those with the least income.

But Bader said the state doesn’t have enough revenue to match the ever-rising expense of providing services. “I don’t think our residents have a realistic view of what things cost,” she said.

DHM surveyed 603 Oregon adults in January, using respondents from a professional panel who were selected to be representative of state demographics. The margin of error for the poll is 2.4% to 4%.