TriMets plan to build a new MAX line connecting Portland to the southwest suburbs was thwarted Tuesday, when Metro voters rejected a funding measure for the project.
TriMet's plan to build a new MAX line connecting Portland to the southwest suburbs was thwarted Tuesday, when Metro voters rejected a funding measure for the project. trimet

Metro’s $5 billion transportation funding measure appears to have been rejected by Portland area voters.

The “No” votes for Measure 26-218—which would have funded a new MAX line and a range of transportation safety and access improvements throughout Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties—was leading by about 90,000 votes Tuesday evening, indicating the measure has failed to pass.

"This was an unprecedented election," said Metro Council President Lynn Peterson, who supported the measure, in a statement. "There were many things on the ballot and a lot of things on people's minds. I want to thank voters for considering this measure. Though disappointed, we are still committed to the vision and to the community who helped identify and build the vision."

The political battle over this measure, which was referred to the ballot by the regional Metro Council, was fiercer than any other local ballot measure this election cycle. A business-backed opposition campaign called Stop the Metro Wage Tax took issue with the measure’s proposed funding mechanism of a payroll tax on employers. Critics also questioned how effective the measure would be in reducing greenhouse gasses, and argued that it wouldn’t be wise to tax employers during a pandemic-caused recession. The opposition campaign issued a barrage of colorful political advertisements meant to persuade voters to reject the measure.

The measure also drew support from a coalition of local organizations which touted the measure’s potential to uplift communities of color, improve transit access for the region’s youth, decrease traffic violence on unsafe roads, improve congestion, offer more environmentally-conscious commuting options, and create sorely needed new jobs.

But in the end, the “Yes” campaign came up short on votes. As of 9 pm Tuesday, the measure was trailing by 17 percent in Clackamas and Washington counties, and six percent in Multnomah County.

“Defeat of the wage tax is a rejection of failed Metro leadership and mission creep and a victory for protecting family paychecks, job, and employers of all kind," said "No" campaign communications director Jeff Reading in a prepared statement. "In the future, Oregon employers should never be excluded or disregarded when local or state governments seek to raise new taxes."

Support The Portland Mercury

Since 2018, Metro area voters have approved millions of dollars in funding for affordable housing and houseless services. The failure to pass Measure 26-218 indicates that the region’s willingness to approve new funding measures may be wearing thin.

But Vivian Satterfield, co-chair of the "yes" campaign, said that transportation advocates were "not deterred" by the outcome.

“The community partners that shaped this package will continue to work together," she said, "alongside partners in Metro and the region, to ensure that the long overdue and critical investments in our region’s infrastructure are completed and long-awaited community programs are actualized.”