In the Nov. 3 elections, voters surprised infrastructure experts by passing the vast majority of local public transportation funding items put before them. The big exception to that was voters in Oregon’s Metro district. They voted against a payroll tax to pay for infrastructure improvements, including a MAX light rail extension.
Voters in the Metro district, which includes Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties, rejected the “Get Moving 2020” measure, 58% to 42%. The vote in Portland was closer but still against the measure, 54% to 46%.
The failed measure would have created a new 0.75% payroll tax on businesses with 26 or more employees to fund an extension of the light rail to the city of Tualatin, the construction of a new bridge over the Clackamas River, the conversion of public transportation buses to run on electricity, more street lights, and free bus and MAX fares for minors, among other things.
Romic Aevaz is a policy analyst at the Eno Center for Transportation in Washington, D.C. He told the Washington Examiner that transportation measures fared “extremely well” overall.
“There was some uncertainty over whether these measures would fare differently this year, given the pandemic, but these margins show that voters were, by and large, supportive of transit investments and willing to tax themselves to pay for major expansions and operational expenses over the long term,” he said.
Aevaz called the Metro-Portland vote the “notable exception.” He speculated that a left-right peel-off was responsible for its defeat.
“I suspect that pushback and opposition campaigns from big business over the new payroll tax and their claims that it would impact hiring may have played a role. My understanding is that there was also pushback among some otherwise progressive pro-transit voices over whether the measure went far enough, was too car-centric in its approach, or whether the proposed light rail line was a worthwhile alignment. I can’t say whether it was the big business pushback or the pushback about the merits of the measure that played the largest role, but I think these two dynamics likely played a combined role in the defeat,” Aevaz said.
Vlad Yurlov is a policy analyst with the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute. He said he believes the problem was not with the opposition but with the measure itself.
“Get Moving 2020 failed because it was based on spending $2 billion on extending a light rail line that has continuously failed expectations. Meanwhile, only 3% of the measure supported necessary traffic congestion relief,” Yurlov told the Washington Examiner.
“Residents and businesses that regularly supported transportation improvements stood up to a measure that not only demanded another payroll tax but didn’t serve their needs,” he added.
The Washington Examiner reached out to several locals to ask why they voted the way they did on the measure.
Paul Willenberg is an online sake retailer in Portland. He opposed the transportation measure.
“I voted no because taxing businesses results in lower wages for employees and higher unemployment rates, which would likely outweigh infrastructure benefits. I also feel like, with taxes as high as they are in Oregon, they could just use the money they already have if this were important. Another red flag was the union support,” Willenberg explained.
Lee Penn is a retired journalist and computer consultant in Portland who describes himself politically as “not affiliated with either of the major parties.” He voted against the measure because “the local papers and some other sources I trust recommended against it. Their impression is that the transit measure would lead to open-ended, poorly directed spending.”
“In other words, the issue was lack of oversight,” he added.
Penn told the Washington Examiner that he is wary of “piling taxes on taxes and debt on debt,” and he suspects that “many voters shared these concerns.” But he also pointed out that “Portland voted for an expansive preschool program to be financed by soaking the rich” on the same ballot.
The “Preschool for All” measure, which passed, charges Portland and Multnomah County with building a new preschool system that will be funded by an additional 1.5% income tax on individuals making over $125,000 a year and households making over $200,000 a year. It charges another 1.5% for individuals making at least $250,000 a year and for households making at least $400,00 a year.
Tags: Portland, green energy, Transportation, Infrastructure, Oregon, 2020 Elections
Original Author: Jeremy Lott
Original Location: Transportation ballot initiatives did well on Election Day, but not in Portland