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Ore. County's Voters Accept Income Tax To Fund Preschools

By Daniel Tay · November 4, 2020, 1:47 AM EST

Voters in an Oregon county approved a ballot measure Tuesday to impose a tax on individuals with income over $125,000 to fund universal preschool.

Voters in Multnomah County approved Measure 26-214, which will establish a Preschool for All Program. Under the measure, the county will impose a tax of 1.5% on annual income over $125,000 for individuals and over $200,000 for joint filers, increasing to 2.3% beginning in 2026. There will be an additional tax of 1.5% on income above $250,000 for individuals and $400,000 for joint filers.

The tax becomes effective Jan. 1.

As of late Tuesday, the measure passed 64% to 36% with 80% of the votes reported.

The revenue from the tax will be used to establish a universal preschool program that offers options ranging from half-day to year-round schedules, according to the Multnomah County voter guide.

The path to the ballot for Measure 26-214 was complicated slightly. Before the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approved the question for the ballot, a citizen coalition called Universal Preschool Now had already placed a different initiative on the ballot, also imposing a tax on high earners to fund preschool education. That initiative would have imposed a 3.9% tax on taxable income amounts above $165,000 for single filers and $190,000 for joint filers.

Universal Preschool Now and the board said in August that the two groups had agreed to present the Preschool for All proposal as a single unified measure to voters in November. In September, the board voted 3-2 to adopt the initiative by Universal Preschool Now through an ordinance, thereby removing the initiative from the ballot, and then immediately repealed it, with the support of the group.

The county officials who voted against adoption and repeal, Commissioner Sharon Meieran and Chair Deborah Kafoury, both expressed concern that the action undermined the will of the citizens who had signed the petition for Universal Preschool Now.

The proposal was not the first income tax initiative that Multnomah County approved this year. In Oregon's May primary, voters in the Portland metro area approved a 1% marginal tax on individuals and businesses to fund homeless services and housing. The metro area comprises Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.

The metro area proposal, Measure 26-210, was approved by 58% of voters. It will impose a 1% tax on individual annual income over $125,000 or joint income over $200,000, and a 1% tax on profits for businesses with annual gross receipts exceeding $5 million, to fund housing and homeless services. The tax is estimated to raise $250 million a year. It will go into effect in 2021, and additional voter approval is required to continue the tax after Dec. 31, 2030.

--Editing by Neil Cohen.

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