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An initiative petition to tax large corporations for green projects and jobs training is headed for the Nov. 6 ballot.

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Mayor Ted Wheeler at a recent Portland Tribune/Pamplin Media Group editorial board meeting. An initiative petition that just qualified for Portland's November ballot may prove to be a local wedge issue as the city struggles with its energy future.

Portland is expected to vote Nov. 6 on whether it wants to create a Clean Energy Fund from a 1 percent surcharge on sales of large corporations.

"It's a 1 percent surcharge on billion-dollar corporations that ultimately will lead to funding almost $30 million per year," said María Hernández Segoviano, advocacy coordinator for OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon. OPAL is part of a coalition of 11 organizations that helped bring the citywide Clean Energy Community Benefits Initiative to the ballot.

But not everyone is on board. Mayor Ted Wheeler said he supports the cause, just not the method. He declined to take a position on the measure, in particular, but said he has different priorities for a new tax.

"For me, right now, housing and homelessness and education are the top priorities," Wheeler said. "I'm not going to say more, other than I have already been very clear and on the record about my opposition to a gross receipts tax."

The former state treasurer added that he feels the new fund would be redundant with a statewide energy-savings program.

"We're already being taxed through the Oregon Energy Trust," the mayor said. "It was my hope that we could create some sort of agreement around the resources that were already in the Oregon Energy Trust and have it deployed for purposes that the proponents would like to see it deployed."

Hernández Segoviano argued that the funds will add to the Energy Trust efforts and that the measure is not a tax, but a surcharge.

Merriam-Webster defines a surcharge as an "additional tax, cost or impost." The dictionary further defines a tax as "a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes."

The ballot measure — which doesn't have a number yet as the elections office waits to see if the Portland City Council simply adopts the new code — will charge large corporations a 1 percent surcharge on sales within the city. Those are defined as businesses making more than $1 billion in national annual revenue and $500,000 of revenue in Portland. Groceries, medicines and health care will be excluded.

Hernández Segoviano said large businesses that have the opportunity to do business in Portland have an interest in making sure the community is healthy, safe and resilient.

The money would be used as directed by a new committee to fund clean energy infrastructure projects, future innovation, and green jobs training for underserved communities, like women, people with disabilities and people of color.

"It's one of the key priorities of the campaign," Hernández Segoviano said. "Making sure that communities of color are at the forefront of such policy is a clear indication that it could be successful."

Now that the signature-gathering portion of the campaign is in the rearview mirror, the campaign is switching to gathering endorsements, campaign funds and yes-vote pledges.

For more information, see the campaign website.


Shasta Kearns Moore
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