Measure 26-218 would fund transportation-focused programs and projects in the Portland Metro Area spanning the next 15 to 20 years.
If passed, a tax of up to 0.75% would be placed on the payrolls of certain employers starting in 2022. The money from that tax would go toward transportation improvements in 17 designated “corridors” throughout the metro area. There are about 150 projects proposed in those corridors.
Related: OPB’s 2020 election coverage, ballot guide and results
The plan would include nearly $4 billion toward projects in areas such as Tualatin Valley Highway, McLoughlin Boulevard and the Southwest Corridor Light Rail — a proposed expansion of the MAX light-rail train system into Southwest Portland, Tigard and Tualatin. An additional $1 billion is expected to go to regional programs including creating safer routes to schools, free youth transit passes and replacing diesel buses with electric or low-carbon buses. In addition to local funding, Metro also expects to leverage more than $2 billion in federal or state funding — making the transportation plan worth roughly $7 billion in total.
Who supports this?
The Get Moving PAC is the primary political organization supporting the transportation measure. It’s a coalition of more than 100 elected leaders, labor unions, businesses, community organizations and others.
Get Moving has received more than $650,000 in contributions as of early October, according to Oregon Secretary of State filings. Some of that money has come from local unions, with other donations coming from out-of-state construction and infrastructure firms. Supporters of the transportation plan have talked about the number of construction jobs it could create.
Other supporters include the Getting There Together Coalition, or GTT — a group of nonprofits, including agencies serving people of color like the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon and the Coalition of Communities of Color.
“This measure is important to GTT because members of our coalition spoke up about the importance of these critical transportation investments in their neighborhoods, where because of historical disinvestment and underinvestment, there is a higher need for transit access, sidewalks and safety improvements,” said Kari Schlosshauer, Pacific Northwest Senior Policy Manager for Safe Routes Partnership and co-founder of GTT.
Schlosshauer said the involvement of marginalized communities in the creation of the measure is the reason for the inclusion of youth transit passes.
“It’s also why we now see inclusion of investments on 122nd and 162nd in East Portland, as well as so much emphasis on transit, sidewalks and other access needs on every road including McLoughlin and [Tualatin Valley Highway],” she said.
The Metropolitan Mayors Consortium, a collective of metro area mayors, has also endorsed the measure.
The consortium states the investment into the transportation plan aligns with Oregon’s goals to address climate change, and could help with growing congestion issues in the region.
It also cites reasons such as improving connections for underserved communities, including Black, Indigenous and other people of color, for its endorsement, something else GTT said is an important piece of the measure.
Some of the proposed investments in the measure specifically target communities of color and lower-income communities, including the proposed “Anti-displacement Strategies” program. That program would “bring neighbors and business owners together to identify strategies to prevent displacement and encourage equitable development” in the corridors that transportation projects will affect.
“This is the first time in Oregon a measure will be addressing transportation and how it intersects with housing,” said Alejandra Gallegos-Chacon, a member of GTT and Community Organizer for OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon’s Youth Environmental Justice Alliance.
“We know Portland has a gentrification problem and history — that’s why dozens of organizations fought for investments in affordable housing and anti-displacement strategies to be included alongside these transportation projects,” they said. “We want our communities to be invested in for the people and business owners that have been here for years.”
Who opposes it?
The official campaign against the measure is called Stop the Metro Wage Tax.
That campaign has received more than $1 million in contributions from companies including Nike, Daimler Trucks, Intel and others.
“Local employers are proudly standing with the 70% of workers in the region, including those earning a minimum wage, to defeat this new tax on wages and paychecks,” Stop the Metro Wage Tax’s spokesperson Jeff Reading said in regard to the contributions. “Our growing coalition represents more than 24,000 jobs in the Metro area.”
Some business groups, including the Portland Business Alliance — the region’s largest chamber of commerce, have also taken a stance against the measure. PBA and a group of other local business leaders wrote a letter to the Metro Council back in July, asking for the measure to be delayed to a future year because of the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
The group cited additional taxes set to begin in 2021, such as new personal and business income taxes related to a homeless services measure voters passed in May.
“Local employers are also absorbing the new state Commercial Activities Tax, increase in the Portland Business License Fee and Multnomah County Business Income Tax, and the new Portland Clean Energy Fund gross receipts tax,” the business groups wrote in July.
Jon Isaacs, vice president of government affairs for the Portland Business Alliance, spoke during public testimony in the meeting when the Metro Council officially referred the measure to the ballot.
“Oregon is now in a severe economic downturn with more than 300,000 Oregonians having filed for unemployment,” Isaacs said. “Now, with the impending personal and business income taxes and the severe downturn, a new payroll tax does not make any sense.”
The Stop the Metro Wage Tax campaign has also received endorsements from some state Democratic politicians including Rep. Jeff Barker of Aloha, Sen. Mark Hass of Beaverton and Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose.
“Throughout my career, I have been a steadfast supporter of transportation. There are absolutely improvements we need to make, including fixing bottlenecks in the region. But this is too big, too bloated, and too burdensome,” Johnson said in a statement released by Stop the Metro Wage Tax last month. “Let’s take a breath. We’re in a health pandemic, coupled with massive social unrest and historic unemployment. I don’t know how much worse we can make it, but if voters pass this crippling tax, we’ll find out.”
What will it cost me?
If voters approve the measure, it would tax businesses up to 0.75% on employee payrolls starting in 2022, excluding businesses with 25 or fewer employees and local governments.
The proposed tax cannot exceed 0.75% of a business’s payroll, according to Metro’s ordinance. Metro has not decided whether the tax would begin with a rate of 0.75% in 2022 or initially start at a lower rate and gradually increase to 0.75% in future years.
Metro would decide the specifics of that tax structure after the measure is passed.
Although workers would not directly pay the tax themselves, the measure would increase the cost businesses pay to employ them, which opponents say could discourage local hiring.
Other things to know
The projects and corridors for the measure were identified through an 18-month community engagement process which included an advisory task force, but Metro Council President Lynn Peterson said the idea of major transportation improvements has been discussed for decades.
“In the almost 30 years that I have lived here, people in this region have been talking about the need to invest in this transportation system,” Metro Council President Lynn Peterson said in a July council meeting. “With this measure, we took that mold which we have been using for the last 70 to 80 years and we just broke it, and in its place we relied on public engagement and a transparent process to create a measure based on the shared values and shared needs of this entire region.”
If the measure passes, there would be accountability and oversight over the projects, Metro said. That includes an independent committee that would review progress and submit annual reports to the Metro Council and the public. Metro said it would also establish additional committees such as project and program committees.
One thing the measure’s opposition has pointed out is that the measure does not have a “sunset clause,” or a date when the payroll tax would stop. In that way, the payroll tax would function similarly to other general tax measures in the region such as vehicle registration fees or gas taxes. Though, the Metro Council could take action to vote to end the tax after the projects and programs are completed.