A proposed Portland ballot initiative to impose a tax on large retailers to pay for renewable energy projects faces a technical and legal challenge.

On Feb. 13, Pat McCormick—a Portland public relations consultant who was involved in the successful opposition to Measure 97, which would have imposed a tax on large retailers—sued over both the ballot title and whether the initiative is constitutional in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

Portland Climate Action Community Benefits Initiative 2018, as it's formally called, would institute a 1 percent tax on Portland sales for retailers with $1 billion in sales nationally and $500,000 in Portland.

It's similar to Measure 97. But the proposed local measure, unlike the statewide effort, would exempt food, medicine and medical services and be dedicated to paying for renewable energy efficiency projects like solar panels and other related purposes.

Those exceptions have backers optimistic, and they're also buoyed by the memory that Portland voters approved Measure 97 by a wide margin even as it lost downstate.

But the court challenge is the first indication that opponents will fight the potential measure vigorously. (The opponents are challenging it on all grounds currently available to them.)

McCormick's challenge to the ballot title argues the ballot language should describe the measure as a tax, not a surcharge.

In the constitutional challenge, McCormick argues that the petition going before voters should include the full text of the changes to existing law that the measure would impose.

The lawsuits, even if they are unsuccessful, will delay the effort to gather signatures.

Opposition from business groups was expected. (The Portland Business Alliance will oppose the ballot initiative, The Oregonian reported earlier this month.) But but it's not yet clear what position organized labor and other statewide groups will take, given that a local tax may make imposing future taxes at the state level more difficult.