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Associated Press: Portland, Oregon, homeless tax tests voter mood in pandemic

Posted 16 May-2020 07:35 PM by Mia | 1072

Voters in metropolitan Portland, Oregon, will be asked Tuesday to approve taxes on personal income and business profits that would raise $2.5 billion over a decade to fight homelessness even as the state grapples with the coronavirus and its worst recession in years.

The ballot measure was planned before the pandemic reduced the U.S. economy to tatters. Proponents, including many business leaders and major institutions, argue the taxes are needed now more than ever in a region that has long been overwhelmed by its homeless problem.

How voters in the liberal city react amid the pandemic will be instructive for other West Coast cities struggling to address burgeoning homeless populations as other sources of revenue dry up. The measure is believed to be one of the first nationwide to ask voters to open their wallets in a post-COVID -19 world.

?I think it?s really going to give you a sense about how concerned are people, still, about homelessness as an issue ? and what are they willing to pay in to solve that issue,? said Marisa Zapata, who runs Portland State University?s Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative.

?We know government budgets are going to be eviscerated, so what does this mean for additional revenue-raising opportunities?? she said. ?Who could we turn to to bear some of that responsibility and how will voters react??

A recent study by Zapata?s institute estimated that in a one-year period, nearly 40,000 people in greater Portland experienced an episode of homelessness and 105,000 households faced housing insecurity.

Opponents say they are surprised organizers continue to campaign for the measure when the majority of Oregon?s population remains under lockdown and the economy is stalled. A ?no? campaign, almost entirely funded by the Northwest Grocery Association, is trying to draw voters? attention.

?People are frustrated. They?re out of work, they?re angry and the last thing they?re thinking about right now is raising taxes,? said Amanda Dalton, the association?s legislative director.

Voters in the three counties that make up the greater Portland metro region will be asked to consider a 1% marginal income tax on the wealthiest residents and a 1% tax on gross profits for the region?s biggest businesses.

The measure would apply to individual filers with a taxable income of more than $125,000 or joint filers with taxable income of more than $200,000. Joint filers making $215,000 a year, for example, would be taxed 1% on $15,000, or $150 a year.

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