Our Opinion: Slow the fast track on Metro's bungled homelessness tax plan
A slapdash process is leading to a potentially disastrous outcome for the Metro regional government and its proposed homeless services measure.
Now, the only way to salvage Metro's credibility is to step away from this mad rush toward the May primary election ballot. Metro councilors must consider a much wider range of possibilities for funding programs that help homeless people make the transition from tents to permanent housing.
Metro's already-shaky approach to the proposed ballot measure turned comical this week when the agency produced estimates that a 1% tax on high-income earners would generate $175 million per year. That was far less than the $300 million that supporters had requested, and it caught them by surprise. But almost immediately, Metro officials had to backtrack on that number, realizing they had made a $40 million mistake. The tax, in fact, would bring in only $135 million per year.
The faulty revenue projections were just the latest misstep from Metro councilors and staff who are motivated by both compassion and political expedience to ram through a homeless-services ballot measure. Their focus on a May ballot measure is a response to the public's intense concern about homelessness, but it's also an obvious attempt to avoid competing with Metro's own transportation measure, which likely will appear on the November ballot. Polling indicates that putting both measures on the same ballot could doom them.
Taxpayers do have their limits, after all.
Metro councilors on Wednesday pushed off until next week a planned vote on sending the measure to the ballot. But delaying the council's vote by a few days doesn't do anything to save this process.
In a matter of just a few short weeks, Metro officials have moved from mere discussion of a measure to fund homeless services, to a nearly full-blown campaign to get something passed in May. Among the unanswered questions: How exactly the money would be spent, how it would be equitably distributed among cities and counties in the region, and how even it would be collected.
Now, toss in the realization that officials don't have a clear handle on how much it would raise and whether that would be enough to accomplish the stated goals. To say this idea is half-baked would be giving Metro too much credit, since it doesn't even know all the ingredients yet.
And this mishmash of activity comes from the agency that is supposed to be the king of process. Metro spends years grinding out decisions about land use and transportation. Of all the criticisms that have been leveled against the regional government over the past three decades, very few have involved it moving too quickly.
But here Metro is, spending a bare number of weeks putting together a measure that raises more questions than it can answer.
Metro councilors have options. If this truly cannot wait, they can place a measure on the September special election ballot, which doesn't require a double majority for this particular type of tax. Better yet, they should push off the discussion until 2021.
The region's voters approved funding in 2018 to build affordable housing, but most of those units won't be completed for years. A cohesive system for reducing homelessness requires nonprofit organizations and local governments to work together on the entire spectrum of support — from temporary shelters to permanent housing and the wrap-around services that keep people from returning to the streets.
All of those partners, along with the public, deserve a much more thoughtful approach than what Metro has demonstrated so far. Taking the appropriate time now will greatly increase the odds that any additional tax dollars raised will be used in ways that actually help the homeless and increase quality of life for all.
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