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Street Fee Opponents Begin Campaigning, But City Council is Still Undecided on Its Tax Plan

Portland City Council still doesn't know what its "street fee" is going to look like. But that hasn't stopped opponents from launching their political campaign against it.

A mailer arriving at Portland homes this week demands a public vote on Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick's tax proposal. The return address on the mailer is for the Tigard-based Taxpayers Association of Oregon, a conservative group that regularly fights against tax increases.

"Have you heard about the new city of Portland income tax?" the mailer asks. "Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick have decided that a harmful new income tax is the best way to pay for road maintenance. Why don't they want us to vote?"

But Novick and Hales are far from decided.

Novick said in a City Council hearing this afternoon that commissioners are considering abandoning an income tax and returning to their proposal from June: a tiered fee on households.

Novick said the decision is between a "real income tax or back to user fee." That means the current proposal for an income tax, which has been a deal-breaker for the Portland Business Alliance, is off the table.

"The Portland Business Alliance and its allies would rather burn the city to the ground" than support an income tax, Novick said in the council hearing.

He indicated City Hall would have to decide whether to ditch the tax or make it even more weighted toward the rich. Novick's remarks were first reported by The Portland Mercury.

Hales' office has confirmed to WW that the residential fee remains up for debate.

"Basically, we're doing shuttle diplomacy right now between the second and third floor," says Hales spokesman Dana Haynes. "You're heard the mayor say it before: 'Do this, do nothing or do something else.' We have taken the 'Do something else' thing pretty seriously."

UPDATE, 5:42 pm: Portland Business Alliance President Sandra McDonough says the business lobby is having "productive conversations" with Hales, and says Novick's remark "leaves me scratching my head."

"It's true that we have opposed a new personal income tax imposed in the city of Portland without a public vote," McDonough says. "With 77 percent of Portlanders agreeing they should vote on a new city income tax, moving forward without a vote would, in our view, be incendiary, but the Alliance would not be lighting the match."