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UPDATE: Ruling could come any time because the Multnomah County Circuit Court is prioritizing cases because of the COVID-19 outbreak

PMG FILE PHOTO - The logo of the elected regional government outside its headquarters.Metro is defending its homeless services ballot measure against a legal challenge in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

Metro has referred the $250 million measure to the May 19 primary election ballot. It would impose a personal and business income tax to raise the funds.

The title in broken into three parts by law. They include a Caption limited to 10 word, a Question limited to 20 words, and a Summary limited to 250 words.

A newly-formed group called The Alliance for an Affordable Metro has challenged the ballot title prepared by Metro in court. The challenge claims the title claims that none of the three parts adequately explains the measure, and that some of the terms are not fully defined.

The two petitioners are Shaun Jillions, executive director of Oregon Manufacturers and Commerce, and Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association.

The Portland Business Alliance endorsed the measure on Monday, March 16, however.

"As a member of the business community who helped develop this measure, I can confidently say it will fund solutions that are already working, and will hold local governments throughout the region accountable for making concrete progress in reducing chronic homelessness," Peter Andrews, PBA member and Melvin Mark Companies Executive Vice President said.

Metro filed a response saying the title meets all legal requirements when read in its entirety late Friday, March 13.

The response also says the court should also certify an Explanatory Story that will accompany the title.

The co-petitioners filed a reply on Monday, disagreeing with Metro's assertions and repeating that its proposed ballot title is legally flawed.

"This Court should rewrite and certify an explanatory statement that is impartial and alerts voters to both strengths and weaknesses of the measure," it said.

A certified title must be filed with election officials by 5 p.m. Thursday, March 19. The court has asked all parties to waive oral arguments so it can rule on the pleadings only and save time, especially considering the scheduling pressures caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Metro is the elected regional government that serves the urbanized areas of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties.

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

The ballot title is as follows:

Caption:

(10 words or less)

Provides homeless services through higher earners' tax, business profits tax

Question:

(20 words or less)

Should Metro support homeless services, tax income over $200,000/$125,000 (joint/single), profits on businesses with income over $5 million?

Summary:

(175 words or less)

Measure funds supportive housing services to prevent and reduce

homelessness in Washington, Clackamas, and Multnomah counties. Prioritizes services to address unmet needs of people experiencing or at risk of experiencing long-term or frequent episodes of homelessness. Services funded by a marginal income tax of 1% on households with income over $200,000 (over $125,000 for individual filers) and a business profits tax of 1%. Income tax applies to resident income, and to non-resident income earned from sources within district. Exempts small businesses with gross receipts of $5 million per year or less.

Declares funding for homelessness services a matter of metropolitan concern, directs regional funding to local services agencies, requires community engagement to develop localized implementation plans. Allocates funds to counties by estimated revenue collected within each county.

Establishes community oversight committee to evaluate and approve local plans, monitor program outcomes and uses of funds. Requires creation of tri-county homeless services coordination plan.

Requires performance reviews and independent financial audits. Metro administrative and oversight costs limited to 5%. Requires voter approval to continue tax after 2030.

You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the challenge here.


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