Contrary to earlier reports in WW
and The Oregonian
, opponents of Commissioner Sam Adams' proposed $464 million street maintenance tax will seek to gather enough signatures to refer the measure to the May ballot.
Paul Romain, who represents the Oregon Petroleum Association, told WWire this afternoon that earlier reports misrepresented his group's position. After WWire reported
on Jan. 14 that Adams decided to split his tax into three separate resolutions, Romain escalated negotiations with the Portland Department of Transportation on behalf of his service station clients. They disliked Adams' proposed transportation tax because they felt it was both inequitable and hurt their competitiveness with stations outside Portland.
Those negotiations appeared to result in a deal that would avert a referral attempt. On Jan. 22, Romain sent an email to PDOT director Sue Keil, which included the following statement:
"Thank you for taking the time to work with us to reach a settlement of the street maintenance issue. You and your staff have been very good to work with, and we appreciate the quick responses from your office. Although we do not support the street fee, the Oregon Petroleum Association will not refer the measures to the voters of the city, nor will we support any other group's possible referral."
After Keil received that message, her boss, Adams, reversed his earlier decision to split the tax proposal into three separate resolutions. Local media then reported the referral wouldn't happen. Adams was eager to avoid a referral both because it could scotch a broad menu of transportation upgrades but also because it could cloud his mayoral campaign. (Adams is running against travel agency owner Sho Dozono and several lesser known candidates.)
Then earlier today, City Council approved a resolution to impose the tax, which will be collected over 15 years from all Portland households and businesses.
After that vote, Romain pounced. In a telephone interview, he revealed to WWire that the OPA, the Taxpayer Association of Oregon, and Southland — the owner of 7-11 stores — will seek to gather the required 18,000 signatures over the next 30 days to put the tax to a public vote (it is unclear whether other critics of the tax, including the Oregon Restaurant Association and the Oregon Neighborhood Store Association will join in the referral effort).
Romain says a close reading of his earlier email explains what might seem like a change of position:
"We said we would not refer the 'measures,'" he points out. "We intentionally said 'measures' plural because of all the games Sam played when he split the resolution into three pieces."
Adams earlier told WWire that he was dividing the measure into three to avoid a possible legal challenge based on the "single subject" rule which has been used before to invalidate statewide ballot measures. (That rule requires that measures only address a single policy change, although it has historically only applied to constitutional changes).
Romain argues, however, that Adams only split the measures in order to make referral more difficult for opponents. "It was a pure bait and switch tactic," he says. "The single subject objection was always bogus and went away. But it showed us we'd have to use Sam's tactics."
Adams didn't immediately return messages seeking comment, but we'll update this post when he does.