Campaigns clash over Metro measure analysis
Opponents of Metro's $5.2 billion regional transportation funding measure released an analysis Wednesday, Sept. 16, saying the proposed payroll tax is broader and more complicated than previously reported.
Measure 26-218 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot would impose a payroll tax of up to 0.75% on employers with 25 or more workers within Metro's boundaries to fund transportation project.
The analysis released by Stop the Metro Wage Tax was conducted by the Moss Adams accounting firm. It said that, if approved by voters, the measure would tax not only wages, but would include such employee benefits as health insurance, contributions to retirement, bus pass allowances and stock options.
The analysis also found that the measure would tax employers and non-profits located outside Metro boundaries whose workers perform services inside Metro boundaries. It is different than the existing TriMet payroll tax, requiring a different tracking system, the analysis said.
But Abigail Doerr, manager of the Let's Get Moving campaign in support of the measure, called the claims "blatant lies." She said the Metro Council had agreed not to tax benefits and called the analysis an attempt to distract attention from the benefits of the measure by much of the business community.
"It's absolutely 100% not true. The measure is funded by a payroll tax on large employees. Ninety-one percent of businesses will be exempt. People want investments in transportation," Doerr said.
Metro Council Metro Councilor Christine Lewis told the Portland Tribune the measure was broadly written, but the council intends to limit the payroll tax's application during the "refinement process" if it passes.
"The measure is written more broadly than the refined version will be if it passes," said Lewis, who mostly represents Clackamas County.
In a conference call organized by the Stop the Metro Wage Tax committee, three local business leaders talked about the analysis Wednesday morning. They were: Deanna Palm, president, Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce; ?Lynn Snodgrass, CEO, Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce; and Lorraine Clarno, president and CEO, Beaverton Chamber of Commerce. ?
"Obviously, we were shocked by the Moss Adams analysis," Palm said. "This analysis proves that this tax is beyond reasonable. We know this tax goes beyond wages and includes total compensation — which includes health care benefits — and it even goes beyond Metro government's own boundaries. And beyond that, it's very complex."
"The Metro government would have you believe that this tax is just on wages and just a limited number of businesses," Snodgrass said. "Moss Adams revealed this tax will be on health care and retirement accounts deferred your 401(k) plans. Maybe the only thing this doesn't tax is the money we've got hidden underneath our mattresses? It can only go up. Government never lowers tax."
Clarno of the Beaverton chamber also complained the payroll tax is permanent and will continue after the transportation projects are finished.
"The permanency and the complexities of this tax are beyond untenable for our businesses. It is very clear from Moss Adams' analysis that this is about a permanent revenue stream for Metro," Clarno said.
Measure supporters did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Opponents include most business association and several large businesses in the region, including the Portland Business Alliance, Nike and Intel. Supporters include labor unions, community-based organizations, and alternative transportation advocates.
The measure is intended to raise and invest a total of $8 billion in 17 transportation corridors in the region, including a new MAX line from Portland to Tigard and Tualatin. 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.
The Moss Adams analysis can be found here.
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