Transportation, education and recreation.
This coming year, 2020, is shaping up as the Year of the Ask for local taxpayers who bother to vote.
Come Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, local voters will not only be expressing their presidential preferences, they may be asked to pass judgement on as many as three bond measures in the Portland area that, combined, could cost them $4 billion. If passed, the proceeds would go for transportation ($3 billion), schools (amount to be determined on Jan. 17) and Portland parks ($450 million).
Traditionally, year-end newspaper columns provide predictions for the coming year which are quickly forgotten. As of this early December deadline, we're still waiting to see the exact line up of money measures, so you'll read no predictions here.
The biggest "ask" will be for the transportation funding measure that would partially finance a new light rail line that would run on Barbur Boulevard through Southwest Portland to Bridgeport Village in Washington County. If the voters approve, about a third of the $3.1 billion raised would fund that line and all the improvements that come with it: like fixing the Depression-era viaducts you cross on Barbur Boulevard and building actual sidewalks along Barbur between Burlingame Fred Meyer and the Barbur Transit Center.
It's not yet clear how you would get the bill for the $3 billion. Raising vehicle registration fees, imposing some kind of sales tax or hiking property taxes are all possibilities in play at this time. (Metro Executive Lynn Peterson has said she'd rather not put it on your property tax bill.)
The Portland School Board is expected to decide on Jan. 17 whether to go to the voters with a bond measure that would raise money to cover the funding gap between what you approved for school construction projects in 2017 and the actual cost. Voters OK'd $790 million. Turns out that wasn't enough. It's now projected that the major construction projects at Madison, Lincoln and Benson high schools will total at least $1 billion. Whatever the school board decides, there will be ramifications for Wilson High School, which is slated for a major upgrade someday.
The possibility of a vote on more money for Portland parks is a new one. During a City Council work session on the future of Portland Parks and Recreation in November, people who packed the chambers heard about a $450 million "system backlog." That's what catching up on a lot of deferred maintenance would cost. This being a work session, nothing was decided but various ways of raising that much money from taxpayers was sort of debated.
Would members of the City Council want to put that amount on the city's credit card, so to speak, by issuing what are called general obligation bonds to be paid off by future generations of parks lovers? How about forming a special Parks District separate from the city of Portland? Or imposing what's called a local operating levy? Options also considered were: increasing the transient lodging tax paid by people who stay at Portland hotels; increasing the cell phone tax; and/or increasing the food and beverage tax.
After the work session — during which Commissioner Chloe Eudaly dismissed the idea of hiking the food and beverage tax, Mayor Ted Wheeler said he wasn't totally against using the city credit card and Parks Commissioner Nick Fish ruled out an increased cell phone tax — I contacted Commissioner Amanda Fritz to make sure I heard her right about not increasing property taxes to pay for parks.
"You objected to using a property tax system that's 'inequitable.' Is that accurate?" Yes, she wrote.
"Are you leaning toward the food and beverage tax?" Yes.
"It seems like long-term funding for Portland parks is going to be an important issue in the coming months. Do you think the challenge can be met while you're still on Council?" (Fritz has announced that this will be her last term.) Yes, I hope we will vote on a funding mechanism in 2020.
Whatever form it takes, any funding measure for Portland Parks and Recreation in November 2020 will have a major impact on the future of the Multnomah Arts Center.
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