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Portland-area Voters Could See A $5 Billion Transportation Measure On November's Ballot

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
July 14, 2020 12 p.m.

Metro, a regional government that serves the Portland area, is expected to vote Thursday on whether to place a roughly $5 billion transportation bond measure on the November ballot.

If voters pass the measure, businesses would face a new tax based on the number of employees they have and the size of their payroll.


Metro President Lynn Peterson agreed last week to postpone enactment of the proposed tax until 2022, and to make other changes to protect smaller businesses in particular, after a coalition of Portland-area businesses and business organizations requested the council do so.

The "Get Moving 2020" plan includes safety improvements and public transportation extensions throughout 17 "investment corridors" across the Portland region.

The plan, with projects expected to span over the next 20 years, would include nearly $4 billion toward projects in areas such as the Tualatin Valley Highway, McLoughlin Boulevard and the Southwest Corridor Light Rail — a proposed expansion of the MAX 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 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.


In recent virtual listening sessions hosted by Metro, the regional government said the plan is expected to create more than 37,500 jobs.

Brian Kennedy, chief financial officer at Metro, said in a council work session last week that the revenue target for the transportation plan needs to be near $250 million annually.

The agency was initially considering a $56 vehicle registration fee for cars in the metro area, in addition to a payroll tax, as another form of funding, but that idea was squashed as multiple Metro councilors called it out as “regressive.”

Now, the council is focusing solely on the payroll tax.

Metro has not decided whether that tax, which would exempt businesses with fewer than 25 employees, would begin with a rate of 0.75% in 2022 or initially start at a lower rate and gradually increase to 0.75% by 2026. Metro staffers said that decision could be made at a later time, after the measure is referred to the ballot.

“It’s taken about three decades to get here,” Peterson said in the most recent council meeting, “but, this ordinance represents something bigger than a taxing mechanism, but rather an investment into the people and businesses of this region.”

The council will have a second reading of the ordinance this Thursday,  and will vote on whether to refer it to the November ballot.