The Metro Council rejected a call to withdraw its $250 million-per-year homeless service measure from the May 19 primary election ballot just before a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge certified it.
The elected regional government referred the measure to the ballot to help fund a wide range of homeless services. The three-part title written by Metro was challenged in court by two business association leaders as not being legally sufficient. But Judge Eric Bloch certified the title with only minor changes on Wednesday, March 18, one day before the filing deadline.
The day before the ruling, the council rejected a call from five chambers of commerce in the region to postpone the vote because of the deteriorating economy caused by COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The March 16 letter to the council was signed by officials with the Beaverton, Gresham, North Clackamas, Oregon City and Tualatin chambers of commerce.
"As representatives of Metro Area Chambers of Commerce, we call on Metro to withdraw your business and personal income taxes from the May 2020 ballot. Postponing these new taxes is the prudent course of action until we can better understand the severe economic impact of the COVID-19 disaster," reads the letter.
The council responded by email on Monday, March 17, by saying, "We remain committed to keeping this measure on the May ballot, and affording our region's voters an opportunity to come together to care for those experiencing chronic homelessness now — and create a safety net for those who may experience homelessness as a result of COVID-19's economic impact."
The email also noted that the largest chamber in the region, the Portland Business Alliance, has endorsed the measure.
If approved by Metro voters, the measure would impose a 1% tax on individual incomes over $125,000, joint incomes over $200,000 and the profits of businesses with incomes over $5 million. Related legislation approved by Metro defines homeless services to include rent assistance, job training, mental health treatment, and addiction counseling.
The legality of the ballot title was challenged by the founders of a new organization called The Alliance to Keep Metro Affordable.
"Now is simply not the time to force employers, many of whom are making daily layoff and closure decisions, to also grapple with a last-minute new taxing effort by the Metro government," said Shaun Jillions, executive director of Oregon Manufacturers and Commerce. "Existing resources should be prioritized to those most in need in our communities, rather than layering on significant new taxes in these uncertain times," said Joe Gilliam, president of the NW Grocery Association.
Jillions and Gilliam have not yet said whether they will now form a political action committee to campaign against the measure.
The taxes apply to 2021 incomes and Metro would not begin receiving any of the funds until the first quarter of 2022. It is unclear how much would actually be raised if Oregon and the nation falls into a recession.
HereTogether, the advocacy organization behind the measure, originally estimated the taxes would be imposed on up to 90,000 people and 13,000 business. But hundreds of business are already cutting back and closing, and thousands of employees are being laid off.
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