METRO GRANTS MAJOR TAX EXEMPTION: On July 16, the Metro Council voted unanimously to refer a $4 billion transportation funding measure to the November ballot. Without notice or explanation, Metro included a last-minute exemption for state and local governments from the 0.75% payroll tax to be levied on all employers with 25 or more workers. Metro offered no guidance on the impact of the exemption, but figures from the Oregon Employment Department show that pre-COVID-19, state and local governments in the tri-county region employed about 104,000 workers, more than 10 percent of all area jobs. "Everyone uses our streets, sidewalks and transit," says Andrew Hoan, CEO of the Portland Business Alliance, which wants the measure delayed. "The fact that 10% of the workforce is excluded in covering the cost of the measure, without any analysis or process, raises significant concerns." Metro government relations manager Andy Shaw attributes the exemption to "limitations in state law around the ability of local governments to tax each other, which creates ambiguity." Shaw says the council decided to remove that ambiguity and adds that because Metro's revenue projections didn't include taxing the state or school districts the revenue reduction should be around 5%.
HARDESTY TO INTRODUCE NEW POLICE OVERSIGHT: City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty filed paperwork July 21 to create a new police oversight body called the City of Portland Community Police Oversight Board. Hardesty wants to replace the current review system, which she says the public doesn't trust, with an agency with greater powers and more money. Unlike Independent Police Review, which reports to the city auditor, the agency Hardesty proposes would be completely independent. It would also, unlike IPR, have direct access to police reports; could compel officers' testimony without a third party present; and could investigate fatal uses of force. It would also have a budget equal to 5% of the Portland Police Bureau's budget. That would give it nearly $12 million, four times IPR's budget. City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero cautions that the new entity, which would require voter approval, would not change much without additional changes to state law, city code and labor contracts. Hull Caballero says a better approach might be to beef up IPR. "Ours is not a bad system," she says, "but one that can and should be improved." Hardesty disagrees: "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. There's the momentum and political will to get this through, and we need to act quickly."
WHEELER WILL KEEP POLICE: Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has rejected City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty's request to take over Wheeler's role as commissioner of the city's police. "Mayor Wheeler, if you can't control the police, give me the Portland Police Bureau," Hardesty wrote July 18. "You are putting our community in danger. You are putting my staff in danger. We need you to be better." On July 20, Wheeler declined Hardesty's request indirectly, weaving it into an announcement that he had co-signed a letter with five other U.S. mayors condemning federal agents and warning them to not occupy their cities. "I will continue to serve as police commissioner through this time of transformation," Wheeler said Monday. Hardesty still runs Portland Fire & Rescue—which banned Portland police officers July 19 from using its fire stations as staging areas.
OLCC TAKING HEAT ON HOME DELIVERY: The Oregon Liquor Control Commission's rules advisory committee met July 21 to consider making permanent the temporary rules allowing home and curbside delivery of wine, beer and liquor. The OLCC temporarily relaxed rules because of COVID-19, but those rules expire in September. Both the state Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission and Oregon Recovers, an addiction treatment advocacy group, have urged the OLCC not to make the temporary changes permanent. In a letter to the commission, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Eric Bloch said the proposed changes would make it harder to "reduce the incidence of alcohol-use disorder and other unhealthy uses of alcohol." OLCC spokesman Mark Pettinger says the agency doesn't think relaxed delivery rules increase consumption significantly, and is merely seeking to comply with social distancing requirements while still providing economic opportunity to the alcohol industry.