The Metro Council late this afternoon voted unanimously to refer to the November ballot a multibillion-dollar transportation measure at least three years in the making.

The council swatted aside pleas from more than a dozen business groups to delay what will be a 0.75% payroll tax.

Jon Isaacs, a lobbyist for one of those groups, the Portland Business Alliance, testifying late in the four-hour hearing, pointed out a significant change in the measure that had not previously been announced or advertised: a large exemption from the tax, covering all state and local government employees in the tri-county area.

Isaacs estimated the exemption, which had not been publicly discussed, could cover more than 15,000 workers.

Councilors did not respond to remarks, but at the end of public testimony, Councilor Christine Lewis introduced the amendment exempting the government employees.

There was no discussion of the financial impact of the exemption or any substantive discussion of why it was being made at the last minute.

The exemption and the referral then passed unanimously. Councilors celebrated the historic nature of the referral, which puts before voters perhaps the largest local government financing request in Oregon history.

"Protecting our planet's climate from climate change is one of the imperatives of our lifetimes," said Councilor Bob Stacey, referring to investments in transit and electric buses the package includes.

Metro Deputy Council President Juan Carlos González cited the sweep of the proposed investments, which he said would help address decades of inequitable spending. González noted that more than 60% of the expenditures would benefit traditionally underserved communities of color.

"The is a monumental step forward," González said. "Inequities have persisted and intensified over time. This measure aims to address those facts."

For Council President Lynn Peterson, the referral was a milestone decades in the making.

"In the almost 30 years I have lived here, people have been talking about the need to invest in the transportation system," Peterson said. "Instead of waiting longer, so many of us stepped up to the challenge. We pushed though the scar tissue of the past."