Portland Business Alliance Pushes City to Limit the Clean Energy Fund Surcharge

A fight under way in City Hall could determine whether the cost of affordable housing and schools rises.

Construction begins on a new Multnomah County Courthouse. (Walker Stockly)

The Portland Business Alliance is pushing for the city to limit which companies will be subject to the Portland Clean Energy Fund surcharge, citing the advice of lawyers that the city can change the regulation without a vote of City Council.

Passed last year by voters, the Portland Clean Energy Fund is expected to bring in upwards of $30 million a year to fund energy efficiency and other projects for environmental sustainability. It adds an extra 1 percent charge on the city's business tax for retail companies with $500,000 sales within the city and a billion dollars nationally.

The current fight is around the definition of "retail" business. The current city draft administrative rules would include construction companies as retailers, potentially adding to the cost of building schools and affordable housing as well as other public-works projects.

Related: The Cost of Building New Schools and Affordable Housing Could Rise Under the Portland Clean Energy Fund

An email obtained by WW shows that the PBA, which opposed the measure, is fighting to limit the way retailer is defined.

"The campaign was unequivocally clear concerning a 'narrow definition of retail,'" writes Andrew Hoan, president and CEO of the PBA, which opposed the measure during the campaign. "The Portland Business Alliance supports rules that confirm and align with the campaign's concise statements."

Hoan continues: "Considering the enormity of the consequences that could be leveled on the business community, affordable housing, schools, disability insurance, retirement plans, manufacturing, wholesale, seismic safety and a host of other industries and business activities, which the voters never agreed to, I would like to make myself and team available to meet at any point."

The city attorney's office has determined that construction companies are subject to it and says the Revenue Division, which is responsible for drafting the regulations and collecting the funds, cannot change the rules without a vote of council.

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