This November, voters will have an opportunity to approve ballot measure 26-218. Among other transportation-related projects, Metro created this ballot measure to seek funding for ten significant initiatives. A winning yes vote on 26-218 would create a new payroll tax on businesses with more than 25 employees.
A pro Measure 26-218 website, Let’s Get Moving, states that “91% of our region’s businesses are exempt from the tax.” By their account, this would only burden larger businesses that can absorb the added expense. The measure will authorize the Metro Council to impose a payroll tax of up to 0.75%. It would exempt businesses with 25 or fewer employees and local governments from the tax.
Opponents of this measure contend that the increase in payroll taxes will deter job growth and favors public transportation projects when ridership is at a historic low. Other arguments against Measure 26-218 focus on project flexibility within the measure. Although initially focused on specific initiatives in 17 regional corridors located in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties, project funds will be used at Metro’s discretion. The measure allows the council to remove or add corridors and amend the list of programs as they see fit.
The opposition’s perspective is understandable. Increasing taxes in a rough economic period is rarely a popular choice. However, that difficult economic time is going to cause a budget shortfall to some degree. The region already has road and transit deficiencies that would need to be addressed in the coming years, regardless of the economy. Money from this tax could help alleviate the impact on infrastructure from budget cuts.
The focus on improved public transit will ultimately help employers. COVID-19 has forced people off the roads in the short term. Those workers that can work from home indefinitely were not heavy users of public transportation. Public transportation often serves those who have jobs requiring physical attendance. Increasing the speed and availability of transportation means employers have a more comprehensive selection of people that can commute to their location.
The funding flexibility within the projects could be concerning. If the public were voting on a bond for a specific project, there should be an expectation of fixed budgets and measured results. However, Measure 26-218 is a new tax without a particular end date attached to it or a definition of complete. Spending focus will change as projects complete, and new initiatives will replace them. A requirement of this measure will create an oversight board to review and report on project progress. Additionally, an external auditor will give annual reviews of fund collection and use.
The Let’s Get Moving site has high-level information on what could be addressed by funding from this new tax. Although the ten launch programs below offer a perspective on what Measure 26-218 hopes to fix, the implemented programs will change based on funds collected and need over time.
- Safe Routes to Schools,
- Safety Hot Spots,
- Thriving Main Streets,
- Anti-displacement Strategies,
- Housing Opportunity,
- Regional Walking and Biking Connections,
- Bus Electrification,
- Youth Transit Access,
- Better Bus, and
- Future Corridor Planning.
Specifically looking at the impact on Montavilla, two of the regional corridors run through the center of the neighborhood. Work on Burnside Street will improve safety through added lighting and enhanced crosswalks.
Perhaps the most significant neighborhood improvements will happen along 82nd Ave. The county-owned roadway will receive a much-needed rebuild. Our MAX station at 82nd and I84 will receive attention regarding pedestrian access. Taxes from Measure 26-218 would pay for safety improvements through better lighting, crosswalks, protected bike lanes, and Greenways. Traffic signal upgrades would also be part of work on this project corridor.
Measure 26-218 proposed updates across the TriMet footprint will benefit Montavilla residents. Bus electrification is one of the marquee projects featured in ballot text. Replacing older vehicles with electric models will cut dangerous diesel emissions in our neighborhood and lower our streets’ noise levels.
Voting yes on a new tax is not an easy choice for voters. As a payroll tax, it will not directly impact the individual voter’s income. However, many residents work for companies with 26 or more employees. This tax will affect their employer, and it could change how those companies choose to grow staff. The harmful impact of the tax is unknowable at this point. However, we acknowledge our roads and transportation systems are underfunded for the number of people living and working in the region. Ultimately, having poor infrastructure could hurt our ability to recover quickly from the wounded economy. People desperate for employment will travel further for work opportunities; they will need dependable roads and transit to make those long commutes. Measure 26-218 could be a tool to help with the recovery and hopefully not hinder it.
Montavilla News does not endorse individual candidates or ballot measures