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UPDATE: Critics question timing, oversight of $250 million-a-year measure as May 19 primary election nears

PMG FILE PHOTO - Snow fell on a homeless camp in the Cully neighborhood as recently as March 14.Supporters of a Metro ballot measure to fund homeless services say the COVID-19 crisis may be increasing the likelihood of its approval at the May 19 primary election.

Campaign consultants released a recent poll on Measure 26-210 that shows it leading by a 57% to 39% margin, with voters more likely to support it if they are told "The coronavirus crisis makes it clear we are all in this together, and we need to emerge from it stronger and more united as a community."

The poll of 600 likely primary election voters within Metro was conducted by GBAO between April 6 and 9.

"The crisis is reminding people that we really are in this together," said Kevin Looper, campaign consultant with Wheelhouse Northwest, which has been hired by the Here Together political action committee to pass the measure that would raise $250 million each year for 10 years to fund homeless services.

If approved by Metro voters, Measure 26-210 would impose a 1% tax on individual incomes of more than $125,000; joint incomes higher than $200,000; and profits of businesses with incomes of more than $5 million. Related legislation approved by Metro defines homeless services to include rent assistance, job training, mental health treatment and addiction counseling.

Measure 26-210 is supported by hundreds of business, labor and community organizations. The Here Together PAC reports raising more than $516,000 to support the measure. The poll shows it passing in all three counties within Metro's boundaries. It is widely supported by Democrats, narrowly supported by Independents, and overwhelmingly opposed by Republicans.

The measure is opposed by some business organizations and others, however, who say this is the wrong time to increase taxes on businesses struggling in the economy and that there is no accountability for how the funds will be spent. Looper dismissed those arguments as 'lies."

Local economist and critic says the complaints are well-founded, however.

"There's no debate the COVID-19 has, and will continue, to crush the economy. Families are losing jobs. Businesses are closing. And, some of those closures may end up being permanent. For those that survive, it may take years to recover lost business and to pay off the debts incurred during the crisis. Now, on top of that Metro hopes to layer on two new income taxes," said Fruits, an Adjunct Professor in Economics and Finance at Portland State University and Vice President of Research Cascade Policy Institute free-market think tank.

Fruits also said there will be no independent oversight of how the funds are spent.

"The oversight committee (in the measure) will have 20 members and those members are appointed by the Metro Council. The measure makes no provision for removal of members of the oversight committee, so it can be assumed those members serve at the pleasure of the Metro Council," said Fruits, who has criticized Metro's oversight of parks and nature bond funds in the past.

Looper admitted the measure would not raise as much as originally expected, given the economic shutdown because of the virus crisis response. 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 businesses have cut back or shut down across Oregon, and more than 270,000 former workers already have applied for state unemployment benefits.

"No one knows what the economic hit will be yet, but it won't raise $250 million in the first year. But it's a 10-year measure though and the economy should recover," Looper said.

You can read a previous Portland Tribune story about the measure here.

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