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  • Portland Tribune

    Portland area tax measures overwhelmingly approved at May 21 election

    By Jim Redden,

    18 days ago

    Portland area voters were surprisingly generous with the tax dollars at the May 21 primary election. Only one spending measure on the ballot was defeated in late unofficial results – a $149 million bond measure proposed by the Estacada School District.

    All of the others in the tri-county region passed, some by large margins. They included renewed or new property tax dollars for the Oregon Zoo, Portland Public Schools, the Portland Bureau of Transportation, flood protection along the Columbia River, and several public safety and park agencies.

    The results were surprising because several recent surveys found voters in the region are very dissatisfied with their elected officials and the direction of their communities. But most of those who voted at the May 21 election gave them more money to spend.

    "I expected them to pass, especially because some were extensions of existing taxes. But I was surprised there was a larger protest vote with people voting no to send a message," said political consultant Rick Metsger.

    One reason so many measures passed may have been the low turnout, which favored motivated supporters. Compared to the 2022 Presidential primary election, the Democrat and Republican nominees are already all but certain, and there were no City of Portland races because they charter reforms approved by city voters moved all to the November general election ballot.

    Statewide, only 28% of voters returned their ballots, a 17% reduction from two years ago. In Multnomah County, just 25% voted, a drop of 30%. In Washington County, the turnout was only 25.5%, a 30% reduction. And in Clackamas County, just 24% bothered to return their ballots, a 35% drop.

    Large measures that passed included:

    Metro’s $380 million bond measure to enhance the Oregon Zoo was approved 56% to 44%. Measure 26-244 is intended to improve animal facilities and visitor access operated by the elected regional government.The Urban Flood Safety and Water Quality District bond measure passed 69% to 31%. It will raise $150 million to match $100 million in federal funds to upgrade levees, pump station, and other infrastructure along the Oregon side of the Columbia River. Much of the safety system has not been improved since the 1948 flood that destroyed the former city of Vanport.Portland Public Schools voters passed the district’s five-year local option levy by 74% to 26%. Measure 26-246 will raise $532.3 million to preserve around 650 teaching and support jobs.Portland voters were renewed the city’s 10-cent a gallon gas tax by 72% to 28%. Measure 26-245 will continue the Fixing Our Streets tax first approved by voters in 2016 and renewed in 2020. Over the past eight years, it has generated around $150 million which has been used to repave 80 lane miles of streets, fill over 40,000 potholes, and complete over 200 safety improvements.Gresham voters approved a five-year Safety Levy by 56% to 43%. Measure 26-247 will provide additional funds to Gresham Police Department and Gresham Fire & Emergency Services.

    Other measures that passed included additional funds for the Tigard Police Department, Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District, the Molalla River School District, and the Banks School District.

    Measure supporters were thankful for the support.

    "Portland voters once again delivered a big win for our schools and our students. What was at stake was essential funding for more than 650 teachers in our schools," PPS board member Julia Brim-Edwards said on election night. "We know that voters are concerned about the level of taxes they pay and that they consistently show up to support our public schools ... So I'm very appreciative."

    “This local gas tax is essential for preserving our transportation infrastructure and improving safety,” said Portland Transportation Commissioner Mingus Mapps and chair of the gas tax renewal campaign and commissioner in charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation. “Voters understood our message, and voted to keep our streets safe.”

    In Gresham, Mayor Travis Stovall predicted that passage of the safety measure will “save lives.”

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