U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) told WW in an interview today he does not support Measure 26-218, the $4 billion transportation measure that the Metro Council referred to the November ballot.
"I am totally against it," Schrader says.
Schrader, who represented Clackamas County in the Legislature before winning his congressional seat in 2008, has always been a business-friendly Democrat who recognized the value of public infrastructure investments. The Metro measure could leverage nearly $3 billion in federal matching funds, and proponents have touted the construction jobs it would create with the building of a new MAX line from Portland to Tigard and investments in projects in 17 transportation corridors, including a $240 million project on the Sunrise Highway and another $230 million project on McLoughlin Boulevard in Clackamas County.
Schrader says the idea of making safety improvements to various roadways is appealing, but when he dug into the details of the measure, he didn't like what he found. "It really doesn't do anything to relieve congestion," he says.
He's also not keen on Metro spending the biggest chunk of the money on a MAX expansion. "That feels like mission creep," he says. "Light rail is TriMet's business."
And while Schrader understands new construction would create jobs, he doesn't like the taxing mechanism, which exempts state and local government, or the timing. "It seems ridiculous to be raising taxes on business in the middle of a pandemic on top of other taxes that are coming due," he says. "It makes no sense to levy a new payroll tax that discourages employers from hiring new people."
The Metro measure has attracted strong support from traditional Democratic allies, such as public employee unions and trade unions, as well as a host of elected officials led by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), so it's a little counterintuitive for Democrats to publicly oppose the measure.
But as WW reported earlier, State Treasurer Tobias Read, also a Democrat, and some senior Democratic legislators—state Sens. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) and Mark Hass (D-Beaverton) and state Rep. Jeff Barker (D-Aloha)—also oppose the measure.
And although Metro has made racial equity a key component of the measure—many investments are targeted at parts of the region where Black, Indigenous and people of color live—another leading lawmaker, state Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Happy Valley), also recently told WW she's not supportive of the measure.
"I'm inclined to vote no," Bynum told WW. "Our traffic patterns are changing. I also believe that the timing of it—that's probably my biggest concern. It's not the fundamentals of it so much as it is the timing—making sure our economy has a robust recovery."
Polls suggest voters appear to share Bynum's misgivings. Results of a DHM Research poll released Oct. 20 by Oregon Public Broadcasting showed voters favor the measure 47% to 42%, with 11% undecided.
"It absolutely could still pass, but it's in a lot of trouble," DHM pollster John Horvick told OPB.
The "yes" campaign remains optimistic.
"Our opposition has largely been unable to reach undecided voters just tuning in to the measure," says Abigail Doerr, a spokeswoman for the campaign. "We're confident that when voters review the facts and see the local jobs and tangible investments proposed in this package, they'll trust the voices of local leaders beholden to the community over wealthy businesses beholden to corporate, out-of-state shareholders."
As for Schrader, he says he told Metro Council President Lynn Peterson, who like him hails from Clackamas County, something she didn't want to hear.
"She and I chatted," Schrader says, "but we agreed to disagree."