[The Mercury Election Strike Force is News Editor Courtney Vaughn, News Reporter Taylor Griggs, Arts & Culture Editor Suzette Smith, and Editor-in-Chief Wm. Steven Humphrey. We do not endorse in uncontested races. Oh and by the way, putting these endorsements together takes LOTS of hard work—and that's on top of our regular excellent reporting. Show your appreciation for the Mercury with a small contribution, please, and thank you!—eds]

Measure 26-244 Metro Zoo Bond - YES 

Choosing how to vote on the Oregon Zoo bond is complicated, but not necessarily because of the tax math. Despite the $380 million sticker shock, the cost to taxpayers does not look significant. This new, "phase 2" bond replaces $125 million in funds voters approved by healthy margins in 2008, which are set to expire in 2025. The "phase 2" zoo bond is projected to set Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas county residents back an estimated 8.5 cents per $1,000 of taxable property per year, which remains very similar to what taxpayers were already paying on the old bond, so—word problem time!—if my friend's house is assessed at around $500,000, he's going to fork over approximately $42.50 to otters every year. 

Critics of the bond have said the zoo isn’t clear on its plan for implementation. The 56-page 2024 draft campus plan paints a picture of energy efficient upgrades, like a future symbiotic relationship between cooling penguin habitats and heating the tropical forest pavilion. Furthermore, the 65-year-old Penguinarium is slated to be demolished and the penguins moved over by the seals and sea otters—creating a trifecta of playfulness the likes of which depressed Portlanders have never seen. Remodels of the red panda and giraffe exhibits are also part of “phase 2.” The zoo acknowledges that protecting animals and visitors from heat events and other extreme weather will need to figure into habitat and exhibit design. They’ve been steadily pursuing water and energy conservation and working to minimize heat islands in these new models.

When we look at how the zoo spent its "phase 1" funds, the revamped habitats for polar bears, chimpanzees, and black rhinos are some of the most enjoyable exhibits in the park for visitors, and the zoo’s California condor program has played a major part in bringing the endangered bird back from a population of just 22. However, critics can point to an abandoned plan for an off-site elephant refuge as a reason to not trust the new bond. While the six-acre Elephant Lands was a vast improvement on the previous 1.5-acre enclosure, it’s not the 240 acre refuge some voters said they were promised, and that acreage seems far less roomy with several elephants occupying it. Complicating matters, the Oregon Zoo has been the subject of reporting from both KOIN and the Seattle Times for the ethical practices of its breeding program. In recent years, many zoos have phased out their breeding programs and moved the elephants in their care to sanctuaries with more space.

The deciding factor for voters with Metro Measure 26-244 will likely be how they personally view zoos. To some they are unnatural, and even harmful, spaces for the animals housed there. To others, zoos save species from extinction and provide educational experiences that foster formative awe for animal life. It might just be that zoos are a good fit for some species, but not others. The Mercury recommends passing the Oregon Zoo bond because we see the need to update these animal habitats, particularly to safeguard against inevitable and increasing climate events. We support taking a critical look at whether Oregon Zoo elephants are being served by remaining in the park, but question if the bond measure is the field whereupon to wage such a battle. Will rejecting it improve the lives of the animals in the Oregon Zoo? We say pass it.

Measure 26-245 Gas Tax Renewal - YES

As everyone involved in promoting it will eagerly admit, Portland's "Fixing Our Streets" gas tax is not a perfect mechanism of transportation funding. It incentivizes the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) to encourage people to drive gas-powered cars, which goes against essentially all of the city's stated climate goals.

BUT... at this time, it's necessary to keep Portland's streets out of a state of complete disrepair. Plus, it's only 10 cents a gallon, so it's really not hurting anyone. PBOT knows it needs to find a new funding stream (or two). In the meantime, vote "yes" to renew the gas tax. 

Measure 26-246 Portland Public Schools Levy Renewal - YES

"Wait..." you may be asking, "Didn't Portland Public School teachers just get a big pay bump following their strike last fall?" Yes, they did—and yet you should still ABSOLUTELY vote yes on the PPS levy renewal, or prepare for what school officials are correctly labeling a potential "catastrophe." This levy was approved by voters in 2019, and taxes property owners $2 per $1,000 assessed value. If renewed, that rate will not increase, but it will provide $101.5 million to PPS for—and this is important—funding 660 teachers and classroom support staff annually for five years.

As you've undoubtedly heard, PPS is already making massive cuts to its budget this year, and they are absolutely correct that a failed vote would set off a "catastrophic" set of circumstances that would almost certainly result in, not only mass layoffs of educators, but much larger classrooms. You might also be wondering, "But isn't it also the job of Oregon legislators to help find and provide adequate funding for our public schools?" Right again, but instead, these lawmakers have been passively and shamefully standing by and watching as our students' grades, graduation, and attendance rates tumble into an abyss, as if somehow it's not their problem. It's long past time for legislators to step up—but who knows when that will be? So until they decide this is enough of an emergency to warrant their attention, the least we can do is vote "yes" on this levy.

[Want to see all the Mercury's endorsements in one convenient place? Check out our handy-dandy Voter Cheat Sheet! Reminder that election day is May 21, and mailed ballots must be postmarked no later than May 21 in order to be counted. Here are your local ballot drop locations.