Metro plans income tax on high-earners in Portland area to help homeless
The tri-county regional government has shelved the idea of asking voters to approve a tax on business to help the homeless.
Instead, Metro says it will ask voters in May to OK an income tax on high earners, raising $250 million at most.
The pell-mell dash to craft a homelessness services measure — which is expected to be referred to the ballot on Thursday, Feb. 20 — inched forward during a Metro Council work session on Tuesday, Feb. 4. Left unanswered were questions about everything from who would collect the money, to on whom exactly it would be spent.
To solve those problems, Metro Council President Lynn Peterson offered at least one solution: "We just won't sleep, that's the answer."
The money measure is being guided by HereTogether, a relatively new coalition that wants the funding to flow toward supportive housing offering shelter plus mental health and addiction services.
HereTogether presented polling numbers at the meeting showing 57% of metro-area voters support a business licensing fee, while 53% support increasing personal income taxes by the top 1% on individuals with incomes higher than $125,000 and families with income higher than $250,000.
In an interview, Peterson said HereTogether, whose coalition includes businesses, has settled on only using the personal income tax, and Metro will follow their lead.
"It's a homelessness crisis," she said. "We know that the public wants it solved, and wants it solved as quickly as possible. We are willing to move very quickly."
HereTogether Vice Chair Mitch Hornecker told the Metro Council that the measure needs to raise $250 million to make a "dramatic impact on chronic homelessness."
"The solution is the same in almost every community," he said. "It's housing with multiple services."
State law limits Metro's personal income tax at 1%. Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek is reportedly drafting legislation to increase the limit, according to the Portland Mercury. Either way, reports issued to Metro have suggested it would take a flat personal income tax of 0.2% to raise $100 million.
HereTogether says a new study of the potential, tiered income tax will be ready in a week or so.
The other six members of the Metro Council didn't openly dissent from the plan, though Concilors Craig Dirksen and Shirley Craddick made some critiques.
"We are taking on a lot," said Councilor Sam Chase, who is running for Portland City Council. "We have a runaway though."
Whether Metro's hurry-scurry plans could sabotage their own $3 billion transportation package on the November ballot, which is crucial for funding a new SW Corridor MAX line, is an open question.
Portland voters, at least, have OK'd every new tax for nearly a decade, but this year is particularly crowded.
Portland Public Schools and the David Douglas School District, which serves portions of eastern Multnomah County, will ask voters to approve money measures in November, while Multnomah County Library wants voters to approve $400 million in November in order to upgrade existing libraries and to build an East County flagship branch.
Portlanders also will be asked to re-approve the 10-cent a gallon gas tax this year.
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