Mayor tells business group tax reform could spur growth

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales criticized two upcoming regional ballot measures as “toxic” last week.

Speaking before the Feb. 27 Westside Economic Alliance breakfast meeting, Hales denounced the measure on the March 11 special election ballot in Tigard that would block plans for a new high-capacity transit line between Portland and Tualatin.

He also blasted the measure on the May 20 primary election ballot in Portland to create an independent water and sewer district.

Although Hales said both measures were “seductive,” he said they would have negative consequences. He compared the proposed Portland Public Water District to Clackamas River Water, the small Clackamas County water district whose board has been fighting for years on personnel and financial matters.

Hales shared the alliance breakfast stage with Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey and Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle, and all three spent most of their time talking about benefits of cooperation and problems created by Oregon’s complex property tax limitation system.

It was the second time Hales had spoken at the forum, and only the second time that any Portland mayor had attended a meeting of the public-private economic development advocacy organization.

All three mayors cited efforts to convince Google to install its ultra-high speed fiber optic broadband system in the region as an example of working together. Six cities in the region are trying to convince Google they can handle the complex permitting and installation request by May. Google will decide if it will expand by the end of the year. Other cities in the running for the Google system are Gresham, Lake Oswego and Tigard.

The mayors also agreed that property tax restrictions have prompted their cities to impose new fees and charges to help finance infrastructure improvements needed to accommodate growth. Hales, Willey and Doyle all say they believe the fees and charges — including system development charges imposed on new construction projects — are now so high that some developers are going elsewhere. Hales said he hoped Gov. John Kitzhaber will lead a tax reform effort to address the problems created by the limitation system, including wildly different taxes paid on properties of equal value.

All three agreed that local governments will have to find new sources of funds for road projects and improvements because the federal and state governments have failed to keep raising gas taxes to keep up with inflation and population increases.

Willey also took the opportunity to announce that the 2014 Oregon International Air Show is back on track. The headline Canadian Forces Snowbirds had pulled out because of budget cuts, causing organizers to consider canceling the popular mid-September event at the Hillsboro Airport. But they recommitted just days before the WEA forum, much to the relief of Willey and his wife, Judy, who is president of the show’s board.

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