Portland Clean Energy Fund supporters say tax would open doors for people of color
A new four-story building being constructed on Southeast 81st Avenue and Division Street was held Wednesday as a symbol of what could be if the Portland Clean Energy Fund is passed.
The 48-unit building is a joint project between the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon and ROSE Community Development to build a community center topped by three floors of low-income housing. On the roof, developers hope to put in solar panels if grant funding comes through.
Khanh Pham, manager of immigrant organizing at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), says it would be great if more green projects like that could be funded. Not only would it provide more energy resilience, but Pham says many immigrants tell her they just want one thing: good jobs.
"They've really lifted up the need to have good-paying jobs that support a family," Pham said, noting construction gigs pay well.
That's one of the reasons she said APANO has joined the push for the Portland Clean Energy Fund initiative.
The November ballot measure would add a 1 percent surcharge to the Portland business license fee for companies with revenue above $1 billion per year, and above $500,000 annually within city limits. Proponents say it would create jobs that pay well above minimum wage and help low-income people afford energy costs, all while saving the planet.
Campaigners are hoping that highlighting the intersection between climate change, income inequality and racial disparity moves Portlanders to vote for the measure. The more than $30 million expected to be raised annually will go to jobs training and energy efficiency projects, with a special focus on training low-income workers and people of color.
Enhabit CEO Tim Miller said equity in the green economy is a major part of his Portland nonprofit's mission, which is why it is supporting the measure.
"I've seen this kind of work be successful in the past," Miller said. "It's the kind of fund that can help all of us do more work."
Many in business community are opposed to the idea. A political action committee called Keep Portland Affordable argues the tax will make it harder to live in Portland as the extra expense to retailers will be passed on to consumers. Messages to the Keep Portland Affordable campaign staff were not immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.
Oregon Citizens' Utility Board Executive Director Bob Jenks said he believes the initiative would be good public policy. Unlike the Oregon Energy Trust, projects could be funded based on considerations other than system-wide energy savings. People's health and wellness or ability to afford energy-saving upgrades could be part of the metric.
"We think it's reasonable," Jenks said of the tax, adding: "We think the funding mechanism is entirely appropriate."
The City Club of Portland voted 77.4 percent in favor of the measure at its annual Ballotpalooza event on Aug. 22.
Pham, the APANO manager, notes that the benefits of Portland's economic boom haven't been felt equally across the citizenry. Low-income folks, who are disproportionately non-white, are still struggling.
She also pointed to a 2016 American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy study that says poor Americans proportionally spend an average of three times more of their salary on utilities than rich Americans do. The study pegged the average utility payments at 7.2 percent of low-income households' salaries, compared to 2.3 percent at the other end of the scale.
Asked why the ecologically minded campaign chose to focus on the hot-button issue of racial inequity, Pham said the Clean Energy Fund initiative is about coming together on shared values.
"I think Portland voters will see that and get behind it," she said.