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Hotel opponents claim enough signatures to refer project to ballot

Opponents of Metro's proposed Headquarters Hotel claim that have collected enough voter signatures to refer Multnomah County's portion of the financing plan to the May 11 Primary Election ballot.

The Coalition for Fair Budget Priorities made the announcement on Monday, three days before a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge is scheduled to hold a hearing on whether the county's portion can be referred to the ballot. County elections officials have ruled it cannot because it is an administrative decision approved by the Multnomah County Commission.

The coalition argues the Multnomah County Charter supports the referral. Metro has filed a brief supporting the county's position.

The judge is allowing the signatures to be collected until the issue is resolved.

“The public response has been overwhelming, and we’ve collected signatures much faster than we expected,” said Paige Richardson, who represents the Coalition. “Voters get that this kind of corporate welfare deal is outrageous, and they want this issue to be decided by the public, not the politicians.”

According to Richardson, on Friday county elections officials informed the coalition that they will refuse to accept the signatures, even on an interim basis, until the referendum question is resolved in court.

The coalitions claims to have collected more than the minimum 11,234 signatures required to refer matter to the ballot. They will keep collecting signatures until the deadline, however, which is 90 days after the Dec. 19, 2013, commission vote.

Metro wants to approximately $200 million, 600-room hotel built next to the Oregon Convention Center, which it owns and operates. The financing plan calls for some of the funding to come from $60 million in Metro-issued bonds. They will be repaid by county transient lodging taxes collected at the hotel over 30 years. If those taxes fall short, taxes collected at other hotels and motels in the county would make up the difference.

The coalition is comprised of the owners of the Hilton, Benson, Governor, Lucia, deLux, Westin, Paramount and Mark Spencer hotels, in addition to the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, which has 275 members in the Portland area. They argue a publicly-subsidized hotel is unfair competition.