Metro area mayors lay out their 2021 legislative priorities
The two dozen mayors in the Portland metropolitan area have laid out their to-do list for the 2021 Oregon Legislature.
Four of the seven priorities by the Metropolitan Mayors Consortium, which is led this year by Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax, dovetail with those unveiled by the League of Oregon Cities. They are economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, housing and homelessness, mental health services to ease the burden on police who are often the first responders to people in crisis, and changes to Oregon's quarter-century-old system of property tax limits.
Changes in policing practices also are on the list.
"The mayors of the Metropolitan Mayors Consortium will focus their advocacy on the most pressing issues facing the residents of cities across the metropolitan region, many of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic," the statement signed by Truax and 23 other mayors said.
The group includes Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, whose city is part of the group, although it is across the Columbia River in Washington state.
Excerpts from their statement are below, listed by topic:
• Protection of home-rule authority and shared revenue from the state: "The MMC will oppose any efforts to preempt the authority of cities to manage public rights-of-way and receive compensation for their use, and will also defend against efforts to diminish the portions of shared revenue allocated to cities."
• Economic recovery and emergency budget flexibility: "While the federal government and the state have made recent investments to support small business, these resources have yet to meet current needs and more resources will be needed to support long-term economic recovery for Oregon's communities.
"Oregon cities have also experienced substantial revenue losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These revenue shortfalls have forced cities to cut programs and lay off staff at a time when city residents are greatly in need of public services. The MMC will collaborate with other local governments to pursue greater budget flexibility during and immediately after declared emergencies."
• Mental health services: "An underfunded state system for providing mental health services directly impacts MMC cities through increased demand for emergency and police services. … Mental health has long been a top priority for MMC cities, and the MMC will advocate for policy changes and funding allocations for mental health in the 2021 session."
• Policing changes: "In response to police killings of black Americans and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests, the MMC mayors stated their commitment to listening to their communities, examining city processes and policies related to policing, and advancing transparency and meaningful reforms. At the state level, the MMC will evaluate and advocate for police reform legislation addressing issues including: airway management; collective bargaining; police transparency; and accreditation of agencies, process and standards."
• Homelessness and housing: "While the availability of affordable housing will address a segment of the homeless population's need, there are other segments of the homeless population that need programs and services that provide support, social services and job training to stay housed. Homelessness-related issues that the MMC will engage on in 2021 include increased state investment in housing development; funding for permanent supportive housing and wraparound services; rent assistance; preservation of affordable housing, and expedited shelter siting."
• Clean energy: The consortium notes that cities cannot adopt their own building codes under state law. "The MMC will support legislation allowing individual cities to decide whether to adopt the Reach Code as the mandatory residential and/or commercial building code for that city. The MMC also will support legislation allowing cities served by investor-owned utilities to opt into community-scale green energy programs in pursuit of meeting local climate action goals."
The consortium also said it will evaluate proposals to change Oregon's current requirement of 50% power to be generated from renewable sources by 2040, set by the Legislature in 2016, with an eye toward cushioning any effects on low-income households.
• Property tax system. The consortium says it's long past time to reevaluate the current system, which dates back to the 1990s, limits tax rates and growth in taxable values, and compresses what schools and other local governments can levy even with voter approval.
"Potential proposals that the MMC may support include restoring local choice by allowing voters to adopt tax levies and establish tax rates; increasing tax equity by tying tax rates to property value (requires constitutional referral to state voters); and improving fairness by changing and repealing various property tax exemptions."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.