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Portland Metro Voters Reject Payroll Tax For Transit Funding

By Abraham Gross · November 4, 2020, 4:41 PM EST

Voters in the greater Portland, Oregon, area rejected Measure 26-218, which would have imposed a payroll tax on employers of workers in the metropolitan area to help fund a transportation investment plan by the regional government.

The measure on Tuesday's ballot would have authorized a tax of up to 0.75% of wages paid to individuals performing services in the Portland area beginning in 2022 to help fund a $4.2 billion transportation package, Get Moving 2020. Employers with 25 or fewer employees would have been exempted.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the measure failed 56.9% to 43.1%, with nearly 780,400 votes reported.

The ballot measure was rejected by voters in regions within the jurisdiction of Metro, the regional government that manages transit and other services for the city's metropolitan area but operates independently of the Portland city government.

The vote marks a defeat for the Metro Council, the legislative body of Metro, which approved the payroll tax for the ballot in July along with legislation to structure how the tax revenue would be spent. Get Moving would have represented the largest investment in the region's transportation system in its history, according to a council staff report.

In a statement, Metro Council President Lynn Peterson said she was disappointed with the result but vowed to find ways to boost transportation investments in the district.

"Safe, reliable transportation remains a regional challenge that we must address together — doing nothing is not an option," Peterson said.

Without the tax, the council is left with limited revenue aside from bond financing to fund the plan's 20-year expenditure framework, including $50 million in annual investments to 10 regional programs ranging from bus electrification to community stability projects. Work on the projects was set to begin as early as 2021.

The plan was opposed by the Portland Business Alliance, which serves as the greater Portland area's chamber of commerce. The organization had urged the council to delay the plan due to the changing economic situation under the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, the alliance said it was pleased that voters "clearly rejected taxes that were too much at the wrong time."

Large businesses in the region, including Intel and Nike, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to political action committees that opposed the measure, according to filings from the Oregon secretary of state.

The vote is also a setback for progressive groups and communities that supported the stated goals for the Get Moving investments, including improving safety and transit access, benefiting communities of color and individuals with low incomes, addressing climate change, supporting ecosystems and aiding economic growth.

Metro Council leadership said in July that the Get Moving plan would help the region's recovery from the effects of the pandemic by rebuilding the transportation system and local economy at the same time.

The pandemic has hit funding for transit and transportation projects particularly hard across the country. State and local governments have sought other ways to make up for lost revenue caused by the dual effects of reduced ridership and travel amid a weakened economy.

--Editing by Neil Cohen.

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