Fight erupts over Metro's $5.2 billion transportation ballot measure
The fight over Metro's $5.2 billion regional transportation funding measure is well under way.
Supporters and opponents are raising money and hiring political consultants to battle over the measure that was referred to the Nov. 3 general election ballot. Opponents also have hired lawyers and challenged the wording of the ballot title in Multnomah County Circuit Court, arguing that it does not clearly explain the measure will be funded by a 0.75% payroll tax on all businesses in the region with more than 25 employees.
And just last week, Metro President Lynn Peterson was unable to convince the Portland Business Alliance to be neutral on the measure. In a Wednesday, Aug. 5, email to PBA President and CEO Andrew Hoan, Peterson promised Metro would limit the tax to 0.6% if the PBA convinced other businesses to be neutral, and to also lobby the Oregon Legislature for additional state transportation funding.
"If agreed upon, this framework will be built into a resolution to be adopted by Metro Council as legislative policy," Peterson wrote.
Hoan rejected the offer on Friday, Aug. 7.
In an email to Peterson, he said that even though the PBA had helped craft the measure earlier this year, many employers cannot afford to pay the new tax now because of the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Last quarter the United States economy experienced the largest decline in Gross Domestic Product in our nation's history, including the Great Depression. Nearly 20 million jobs were erased in March and April, and nearly 16 million workers remain on continuing unemployment. Oregon's economy is not expected to recover to pre-economic downturn until 2024 at the earliest, and our jobless rate was 14.9% as of April," Hoan wrote.
Instead, Hoan said the PBA would only support a much smaller version of a measure narrowly focused on helping underserved communities and referred to the ballot after the economy improves.
That counter-proposal was not accepted, said Abigail Doerr, the ballot measure's campaign manager.
Peterson could not have been surprised by Hoan's reply, however. The PBA had joined with more than a dozen other local, regional and state business organizations to ask that the measure be delayed in the weeks before the Metro Council referred to the ballot on July 15. But supporters, including community-based organizations and alternative transportation advocates, successfully argued the projects and programs to be funded by the measure are long overdue and should not wait any longer.
Battle lines are drawn
Supporters have formed the Get Moving political action committee, which had raised more than $183,000 by Monday, Aug. 10. Large contributions include $25,000 from the American Council of Engineering Companies of Oregon, $15,000 from the Texas-based AECOM Technology Group and $10,000 each from a variety of construction companies and labor unions.
Opponents have been busy, too. Although they have not yet filed a committee, Willamette Week has reported the opposition campaign will be funded by such large businesses as Intel, Nike, the Standard, Precision Castparts and U.S. Bank. Many of the business organizations that requested Metro delay the referral have not yet taken a formal position on the measure, but a number of them could formally oppose it, too. The ballot title hearing is set for 10 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 20.
If successful, the Metro measure is intended to raise and invest a total of $8 billion in 17 transportation corridors in the region. If approved by voters, it would generate $4.2 billion from within the region for transportation projects and another $1 billion for transportation-related programs. The regional funds are expected to leverage an additional $2.8 billion in federal transportation funds.
Some businesses, including the members of Business for a Better Portland, supported the measure, saying it was a step toward racial equity and other benefits. The referral also is supported by the Getting There Together Coalition. It includes AARP Oregon, APANO, Coalition of Communities of Color, Disability Rights Oregon, East Portland Action Plan, Hacienda CDC, 1000 Friends of Oregon, OPAL Environmental Justice, the Oregon Environmental Council, Oregon Walks, Portland African American Leaders Forum, Safe Routes Partnership, Street Trust, The Street Trust, Urban League of Portland, Verde and the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center.
Business organizations opposing the referral included the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce, the Building Owners & Managers Association of Oregon, the Clackamas County Business Alliance, the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center, the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce, the Portland Business Alliance, the Smart Growth Coalition, the Technology Association of Oregon, the Westside Economic Alliance, the Working Waterfront Coalition, the East Metro Economic Alliance, Oregon Business & Industry, the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors and the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce.
"We urge you to consider whether current changes of the magnitude we are experiencing in our economy require all of us to pause on a new business tax proposal," the Employers Coalition said in a letter to the council before the vote.
Projects and programs in measure
Planning for the new MAX line began many years ago. It was always considered to be part of comprehensive transportation improvements between downtown Portland and the rapidly growing portion of Washington County that includes Tigard and Tualatin.
Cities and counties along the route also realized that more affordable housing would be needed to minimize displacement caused by increasing property values, also known as gentrification.
But because the measure will be proposed by a regional government, there also is a need to give voters outside the corridor a reason to vote for it. That provided an opportunity to create a regional transportation improvement program to be funded by the measure. The council has indicated its support for around 150 projects in 16 transportation corridors in all three counties within Metro's jurisdiction.
According to the draft plan, the largest investment would be $975 million to help finance the new MAX line in the Southwest Corridor. The federal government is expected to pay half the cost of the project, currently estimated at $2.8 billion.
Other investments for projects and planning in the draft plan include: 82nd Avenue, $540 million; McLoughlin Boulevard, $230 million; Burnside Street, $370 million; Central City, $240 million; Southwest 185th Avenue, $190 million; Highway 212/Sunrise Corridor, $240 million; Clackamas-to-Columbia/181st Corridor, $150 million; Southeast Powell Boulevard, $110 million; 162nd Avenue, $100 million; 122nd Avenue, $100 million; Albina Vision project in the Rose Quarter area, $65 million; Highway 43, $70 million; Highway 217, $18 million; Highway 99W, $5 million; and Highway 26, $1 million.
Another $250 million would be raised each year for the next 20 years for transportation-related programs. They range from Safe Routes to Schools to annual TriMet youth programs for high school students in the region.
If the measure is approved by voters at the Nov. 3 general election, Metro is likely to issue revenue bonds before the fee and tax become effective to begin work on some of the projects as soon as possible.
Readers can find more information about the measure here.
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