Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.

FONT & AUDIO

MORE STORIES


UPDATE: Portland auditor says safeguards lacking as business tax revenues far exceed campaign estimates.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Portland Clean Energy Fund supporters during the 2020 November general election campaign.The Portland Business Alliance is calling on the City Council to freeze spending on the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefit Fund that is raising three times more tax money than estimated — $90 million a year compared to the original $30 million claim.

The soaring increase is happening as a new audit said the climate-and-equity program needs more guidance from the City Council and the volunteer oversight committee that approves its grants. Among other things, the Portland City Auditor's Office found the program has still out not finalized methods to track, measure and report its performance, as required by the 2018 ballot measure that created it.

In addition, the audit released on March 10 said the program goals are tied to the city's Climate Action Plan. When adopted by the council, it included 20 objectives and 247 action items. But the plan expired in 2020 and has only been replaced by the declaration of a climate emergency.

The Portland Business Alliance responded to both developments by saying the council should freeze program spending and establish an emergency independent commission to review its management.

Supporters say the City Council should keep the revenue and expand the scope of the fund, which was overwhelmingly approved at the November 2020 general election.

The fund is located in the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. It is overseen by Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who supports the recommendation. She has directed staff to define performance measures by July, submit recommendation for a clear climate strategy by the end of the year, and establish performance goals by July 2023.

"Given the updated and increased revenue projections, I believe we have a collective and unprecedented opportunity to move more urgently, and more aggressively, to tackle our carbon emissions and better prepare our community for increasing climate-related extreme weather events," Rubio said in a March 9 letter to program supporters.

Measure critics did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Measure 26-201 was drafted by a coalition of minority, environmental, social justice and faith-based organizations. It impose a 1 percent surcharge on Portland retail sales of large businesses to fund energy-related projects to benefit lower-income communities, including communities of color.

The council unanimously approved the first group of 45 grants worth $8.6 million recommended by the oversight committee in April 2021. It has a balance of $170 million and expects to spend $100 million this year.

During the campaign, supporters estimated the tax would raise approximately $30 million a year. The Portland Business Alliance said it would raise far more than that and they were right.

In a March 7 letter to Portland officials, fund supporters admitted the tax was raising three times more money than originally estimated.

"This is exciting news for the PCEF Coalition, as we see this as an opportunity to further address climate change impacts on our most vulnerable and impacted communities led by and for those communities. The PCEF Coalition has always recognized the need for comprehensive climate action, and that PCEF was one source of funding among many that are needed. The scale of adaptation needed to mitigate climate change and prepare for its impacts is immense. More resources for climate justice above and beyond the earlier projections of PCEF revenues have always been needed. These additional funds are a boon to Portland," it said.

The letter was signed by representatives of: Coalition of Communities of Color; Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon; Verde; Native American Youth and Family Center; OPAL Environmental Justice; Sierra Club Oregon; Portland Audubon; Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility; 350PDX; and Columbia Riverkeeper.

The Portland Business Alliance responded with a March letter to the council that called for the council to immediately reevaluate the program.

"Considering the State of Oregon is taking one of the most aggressive efforts to curb emissions in the nation, it is time to evaluate if a single municipality is the right caretaker for this type of climate change action. It is also time to evaluate the need for management changes within the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. While climate change threatens all of us, we need solutions that work, not false promises and failed management," the letter said.

Measure 26-201 was drafted by a coalition of minority, environmental, social justice and faith-based organizations. It was placed on the Cover 2018 ballot by an initiative petition drive supported by the same groups, and was endorsed by such high-profile liberals as Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley. It was opposed by fiscal conservatives and some business interests. During the campaign, both sides said they supported the goals of the measure — to provide energy-efficiency upgrades and job training to communities of color. Beyond that, they disagreed over just about everything, including whether the proposed surcharge on large retailers is the right way to pay for them, how much it will actually raise and whether any of the costs will be passed on to Portland residents and businesses.

The letter from the supporters can be found here.

The Portland Business Alliance letter can be found here.

Rubio's letter can be found here.

The audit can be found here.


You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.

Go to top
JSN Time 2 is designed by JoomlaShine.com | powered by JSN Sun Framework