Chamber of Commerce leaders from multiple areas of the Portland metro area are asking the regional government, Metro, to postpone a proposed ballot measure that would use a business and personal tax to raise an annual $250 million for homeless services. Metro said Tuesday it would not abide.
“We remain committed to keeping this measure on the May ballot,” Metro, the regionally elected government for Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, wrote in an email to some of the region’s chamber of commerce leaders Tuesday.
Metro councilors said amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, it’s even more crucial to address the area’s housing and homelessness crisis.
“The measure we referred to voters will help our community’s most vulnerable people and holds harmless the working families and small and medium sized businesses most likely to be impacted by the economic wake of COVID-19,” the council wrote.
Money raised from the proposed measure would go to services such as case management, rent assistance, addiction and recovery services, mental health care and employment support.
CEOs of the Beaverton area, Tualatin, North Clackamas, Gresham area and Oregon City chambers of commerce sent an email to Metro council members Monday, asking for the ballot measure to be postponed until the severity of the economic impact from the ongoing pandemic is more understood.
“Now is not the time to stack new taxes on local businesses and residents,” the chamber leaders wrote.
They said the measure “adds uncertainty to doing business in the Metro region at a time when our communities are looking for economic stability.”
In its response, the council stated: “To be clear: The measure is structured so working families and small and medium sized business would not be taxed. In fact, the local workers we are jointly concerned about may be helped by this measure, with funds designated to assist those most at risk of losing housing.”
The proposed business tax is on business profits, not income, the council clarified. “Approximately 94% of the businesses in the region—all small and medium sized businesses with sales under $5 million a year—would be entirely exempt from the tax,” the council wrote.
The proposed ballot measure would also only tax the region’s highest earners; individuals making more than $125,000 annually and couples earning more than $200,000 would have a 1% marginal income tax.
Bend leaders are facing a similar decision.
The coalition for the Go Bend 2020 bond measure, which looks to put $190 million toward improving transportation projects, asked the Bend City Council Tuesday to remove the measure from the ballot.
That proposed measure would increase property taxes in Bend by an estimated 47 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value. For the average home in Bend, that would come out to about $170 per year.
“In this unprecedented moment, it feels prudent to take stock of the situation, marshal resources and work together to help our neighbors in need,” the Go Bend 2020 Coalition said in its statement.
The Bend coalition, made up of more than 100 businesses, nonprofit organizations and community members, said it would continue to support the transportation bond when the time comes.
The Bend City Council is set to decide on removing the bond measure from the ballot Wednesday evening.
HereTogether Oregon, a coalition of advocates, elected officials, business leaders and service providers, first brought the measure to the Metro Council in January, asking it to respond to the homeless crisis in Portland.
The coalition for the Portland area’s proposed measure is supporting the Metro council’s decision to not postpone.
The coalition put out a statement Tuesday calling local chamber leaders’ calls to postpone the measure “deeply offensive” and “self-interested.”
“The lobbyists trying to exploit the coronavirus crisis are apparently immune to shame,” HereTogether Director Angela Martin said in a statement. “They want to use this moment to punish those who already need help most—including people who may be the most impacted by the looming public health crisis.”
The council also stated that both large and small businesses across the region have shown support for the measure. The Portland Business Alliance and the Greater Portland’s Chamber of Commerce endorsed the measure last week, the council said.
The council continued: “We know that the population of the region’s most vulnerable isn’t going to get smaller during a recession. Now, more than ever, is when we need to come together as a community and support one another.”