Metro's transportation and homelessness plans: Hang together or stand separately?
A new poll helps explain why Metro is rushing to refer a measure to fund homeless services to the May 19 primary election ballot.
The regional government's planned transportation funding measure could fail if it, and the homelessness tax, were both placed on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. And the homeless services measure might not pass, either.
The recently released DHM Research poll found that 62% of likely voters in the Metro region support a measure to reduce homelessness that focuses on expanding social services, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment.
But the poll also found that support drops to 54% if it appears on the same ballot as transportation funding measure.
The transportation measures fares even worse. The poll found 59% of voters support a measure to reduce traffic, create additional transportation choices, fight climate change and increase earthquake safety. But that support drops to 49% if it appears on the same ballot as the homeless services measure.
Complicating the picture in Multnomah County is a local measure to fund free preschool for all children, which is being considered by the Multnomah County Commission for the November ballot. The poll found that 66% of county voters support it. But that support dropped to 46% if it appears on the same ballot as the other two measures.
In other words, the chances of Metro passing both of its measures drop if they appear on the same ballot, with Metro's key prize, the transportation measure, more likely to fail.
The Metro Council held a public hearing on the framework for the homeless services measure proposed by the HereTogether advocacy coalition on Thursday, Feb. 13. It is scheduled to hold a work session to draft the measure on Tuesday, Feb. 18. The council could vote to refer the measure to the May ballot on Thursday, Feb. 20.
According to Metro officials, the council is considering a 1% tax on personal incomes above $125,000 per year and $250,000 for couples. As of press time, it remains unclear how much money that would actually raise.
Metro voters approved a $652.8 million measure to fund the construction of affordable housing in the region at the November 2018 general election.
Portland Business Alliance officials said a progressive regional payroll tax would be a better funding source. The alliance supports increased funding for homeless services but thinks a payroll tax would be more stable during economic downturns, said a letter sent to the council on Sunday, Feb. 16.
The proposed measure was both supported and questioned during the Feb. 13 hearing.
"The reality is this is something that we've been talking about for years," HereTogether board member Katrina Holland said. "Quite frankly, after the housing bond passed, immediately advocates in the community were thinking we need to pair these dollars with services dollars and we tried multiple things but it didn't go well."
But Cascade Policy Institute President John Charles Jr. said Metro doesn't have many answers so far and the process has been rushed.
"How are they proposing to get the money? How much money? Where is it going to go? What are the metrics for measuring success? They don't, by their own admission, know any of that," said the leader of the local free-market think tank.
The poll was commissioned by the Portland Business Alliance and posted on its website on Wednesday, Feb. 12. It was conducted in early January, before Metro decided to consider placing the homeless services measure on the May ballot.
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