This article was recently published on The Oregonian’s website about a debate that took place August 12 at the Westside Economic Alliance between Metro officials and opponents of a proposed $7 billion measure that will be on your ballot this November.
The $7 billion would be funded by a permanent payroll tax on employers in the Metro area that includes Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.
I am strongly opposed to this measure, plan to vote against it, and urge you to do the same.
Other opponents of the measure include the Portland Business Alliance, the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce, Nike and Intel. The first of those entities represents businesses of all sizes throughout the Portland metropolitan area. The Hillsboro Chamber represents business interests in Washington Counties largest city and both Nike and Intel are, of course, two of the largest employers in Washington County and the entire state of Oregon.
Bonding that would result from the measure’s passage would fund $4 billion in projects, another $1 billion to fund transit passes for students in the Metro region and to transition Tri-Met’s fleet away from diesel.
The centerpiece of the proposed transportation package is the controversial 11-mile South Corridor light rail project from Portland to Bridgeport Village. By its own admission, Tri-Met estimates that it would have to pay to relocate over 100 residences and over 100 businesses. Those businesses would essentially have to pay a payroll tax, then have the government use that same money to displace them.
If the measure passes, Washington County’s estimated contribution to the light rail project would be $75 million. This is in addition to the $25 million that the county has already set aside for it, for a total of $100 million. My first and foremost job is to advocate for the citizens of Washington County. This Bond measure disproportionately impacts our own residents to pay for projects in other counties. This is completely inappropriate.
It is true that the proposed transportation package also includes funding for much-needed road improvements. For example, safety would be enhanced along TV Highway and 185th Ave. Having said that, the $100 million that the county would be paying for the light rail project would go a long way towards completing the TV Highway improvements that should be done anyway with the financial help of ODOT who has responsibility for these roads already. This also benefits Washington County taxpayers.
The payroll taxes proposed under the measure would not be collected until 2022, but the light rail project would be completed five years later, in 2027. Even after it’s finished, it’s highly unlikely that any majority of Washington County residents will ever use it. Transportation studies done clearly show that this was primarily to support Multnomah County residents. Additionally, by Tri-Mets own data, bus and light rail ridership is down over 8 million riders per year since their peak periods earlier in the last decade.
Further, the extreme uncertainty that our businesses are feeling right now and the devastation they’re feeling due to the Covid outbreak, put these surviving businesses in greater jeopardy. I would do anything I could to advocate for businesses in Washington County and the important jobs they provide for our residents.
Government should not be looking for ways to further burden businesses in this environment. If anything, our local and regional agencies should be doing more to assist our job creators to ensure their survival.
My priorities as your next county commissioner include assuring increased vehicle capacity to combat congestion, improving road safety and maintaining current funding levels for bike lanes and sidewalks through MSTIP to improve transportation options for our residents. The bottom line is that we need to increase and improve our car and vehicle infrastructure and prioritize that over-spending billions of dollars on more ill-advised light rail projects that do not benefit most people.
Proposals like this are one of many reasons that we need more elected officials to advocate for local and regional leadership to stop wasteful projects and be more mindful of how they spend our limited tax dollars. I intend to stand up for common sense transportation policies as your next Washington County Commissioner.