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Supporters, opponents clash over the $5.2 billion measure on the Nov. 3 ballot during online debate

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Metro regional transportation ballot measure is intended to reduce congestion, fight climate change and improve equity.Supporters and opponents painted starkly different pictures of Metro's regional transportation ballot measure during an online Monday morning debate before members of the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce.

The measure on the Nov. 3 general election ballot will impose a 0.75% payroll tax on businesses with more than 25 employees to fund $5.2 billion worth of transportation projects and programs in the region.

Metro Councilor Christine Lewis said the projects and programs are needed to fix a fragmented, environmentally harmful and racially unfair transportation system.

"We are 20 years behind where we need to be with our transportation system and can't wait any longer," said Lewis, who represents much of Clackamas County at the elected regional government.

Lewis was supported by Matt Swanson, political director of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, who said the 37,000 jobs to be created will help the economy during the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But former state legislator and public affairs consultant Scott Bruun said the payroll tax was the worst tax at the worst time, and will actually eliminate some jobs and prevent others from being created. He criticized the largest and most expensive project in the measure, the Southwest Corridor MAX line, as "a train from downtown Portland to Bridgeport Mall" that would be built when transit ridership is declining and no one knows if people will ever want to work or live downtown in the future.

"The plan is a Portland-centrc behemoth that does not fix our road system," said Bruun, who was speaking on behalf of Stop the Metro Wage Tax, a coalition that includes many businesses and business organizations in the state and region.

Most of the questions asked during the Aug. 31 debate concerned projects in Clackamas County. Lewis said that although the county only included 19% of Metro residents, it will receive 29% of the funding. Projects are planned for five corridors in the county, Lewis said, including Highway 43, McLoughlin Boulevard and the Sunrise Corridor. Bruun said faulted the measure for not funding any improvements on I-5, I-205, I-405 or Highway 217.

Although the board of the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce will not vote to take a stand on the measure for several days, most of its members who asked questions seemed critical. One question asked why bike lanes and landscaping were planned for Highway 212, where traffic is already over capacity. Lewis responded that the sidewalks and bike lanes would improve safety for families with children.

The debate happened as Multnomah County Circuit Judge Steffan Alexander has directed Metro to rewrite the ballot title to say the measure is a "tax on employers," not a "business tax" as Metro originally wrote. Alexander is expected to approve the final version on Tuesday, Sept. 1.

The campaign over the measure is going to be expensive. It is supported by the Get Moving political action committee, which has reported raising nearly $353,000 so far. Large contributions include: $125,000 from Stacy and Witbeck, a company that has worked on previous MAX projects; $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.

The opponents are waiting for the ballot title to be finalized before they file their political action committee. They have already retained Wheelhouse Northwest and Gallatin Public Affiairs consulting firms, however. Large businesses and organizations that have announced their opposition so far include: the Beaverton Chamber of Commerce; the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce; Intel; Nike; Oregon Business and Industry; the Portland Business Alliance; the Technology Association of Oregon; the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce; and Schnitzer Steel.

Some businesses, including the members of Business for a Better Portland, support the measure, saying it will fight climate change and increase racial equity. The measure 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, Urban League of Portland, Verde and the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center.

The measure is intended to raise and invest around $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.

According to the plan approved by Metro, 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 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.

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