In a remarkable email sent Aug. 5 to the Portland Business Alliance, Metro Council President Lynn Peterson offered a rich incentive to the groups that oppose Metro’s proposed multi-billion transportation ballot measure—and also made some extraordinary requests.
First, the carrot: Peterson offered to drop the rate of the payroll tax that would fund the measure from .75 person to .60 percent—a 20 percent decrease. That decrease comes with significant strings attached.
The decrease is available “if and only if all parties, including PBA members and stakeholders, agree to at least a neutral position on the measure as PBA and lobby the legislature for Orphaned Highway funds, or other transportation funding, that will help fill the initial $50m hole created by lowering the rate from .75% to .60%,” Peterson wrote to PBA President and CEO Andrew Hoan just before 9 pm Wednesday night.
(The Orphaned Highway funds reference alludes to state highways that run through the three-county Metro region. “These funds are justified because the state has neglected its upkeep responsibility to state routes like Hwy 99W and 99E and OR 213/82nd Ave for decades,” Peterson wrote.)
In other words, PBA and other opponents of the measure must agree to cancel the opposition campaign they have pledged to run against Metro’s measure and convince lawmakers to backfill the hole created by the lower rate.
That’s a bold gambit for a couple of reasons. Typically, campaigns are not supposed to offer inducements to affect voters’ behavior.
“With some exceptions, Oregon election law prohibits giving something of value for no charge with the intent to influence how a person votes or other political activity,” says the Secretary of State’s Elections Manual.
Second, Peterson is trying to get PBA and its allies to convince lawmakers to shift funds that would otherwise benefit all Oregonians to benefit just the Metro region.
Peterson also made two other significant requests of PBA:
1. She wants to group to lobby the Legislature to allow Metro to tax local governments as part of the transportation measure. (Metro added an exemption for state and local governments just before the Metro Council voted to refer the transportation measure July. 16.)
2. Peterson also wants PBA and its allies to lobby the Legislature for an entirely new tax, which would tax all Oregonians on vehicle miles traveled.
“All parties [would] agree to lobby the legislature for a progressive regional or state Vehicle Miles Traveled fee, with a portion directed to fill the $50M (plus growth) gap in funding past commitments to the Orphaned Highway Bill timeline,” Peterson wrote.
The PBA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Peterson also could not be reached.