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Doug Brown

A pair of corporate lobbyists are mounting a legal challenge against a proposed $250 million business tax that's meant to fund homeless services in the Portland metro region. It's the first sign of opposition to the sweeping tax, which has been referred to the May 19 ballot by Metro, the regional government representing Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties.

Joe Gilliam, president of Northwest Grocery Association, and Shaun Jillions, head of Oregon Manufacturers and Commerce, announced their objection Friday afternoon under the name "Alliance for an Affordable Metro."

The Metro measure, which has the support of local government and homeless advocates, suggests placing a 1 percent tax on businesses in the tri-county region that make more than $5 million annually and a 1 percent tax on individuals making more than $125,000 (or couples making more than $200,000). Gilliam and Jillion—who together represent grocery chains, timber corporations, and major manufacturers—argue that the proposed tax places a burden on businesses that are already weighed down by regional and state level taxes.

“We cannot consider these new personal and business taxes in a vacuum," wrote Jillion in a press statement. "Any new tax must be considered based on the cumulative effect of taxation on the same dollar."

The press release points to the Portland Clean Energy Tax, Oregon's corporate income tax, Portland's Business License Tax, and the Multnomah County Business Income Tax as examples of other financial constrains to businesses.

It also targets the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) for collaborating with community groups and political leaders in specifying what services the homeless services measure would fund.

“Unfortunately, the downtown Portland business interests at the negotiating table didn’t consider the cumulative impact of the exponentially growing number of state and local taxes that are borne by everyday Oregonians and business owners," wrote Gilliam.

While PBA consulted on the measure's goals, the organization, which represents businesses across the city, has remained neutral on the tax element of the proposed measure.

The Alliance for an Affordable Metro has filed a legal complaint against the ballot title of the Metro measure—a tool commonly used to impede the ability of a proposed measure to appear on a ballot.

Here Together—the advocacy organization that helped craft the measure's language and is now campaigning for the measure—responded to the challenge by chiding the lobbyists' corporate ties.

"This is a highly misleading, self-interested challenge by conservative anti-tax forces that don’t responsibly sit at any of the Portland-area business tables," reads Here Together's press release. It goes on to challenge Jillion and Gilliam's claims that the proposed tax comes with no accountability measures. Here Together notes that the organization has worked for months to fine-tune specific accountability and equity tools.

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“This challenge is cynically attempting to do one thing: derail the effort to provide solutions to our region’s homelessness crisis, despite the fact that it is voters' number-one priority and there is broad coalition supporting the measure,” said Here Together campaign manager Angela Martin.

The measure would specifically fund regional organizations that provide social support services to homeless residents and people at risk of being homeless.

“All they are announcing today is that they proudly have the ability to hire a lawyer and don’t prioritize solving homelessness in Portland the way thousands of local businesses of all sizes do,” said Martin. “We are in no way concerned with their challenge and hope their lawyers get paid well for their trouble.”