Supporters of a capital gains tax proposal that would provide lawyers to tenants facing eviction are mounting a signature-gathering effort in hopes of securing the initiative in the November ballot after a Multnomah County Judge ruled last month that the proposal could go forward with modified language.
The decision follows a challenge filed by the Portland Business Alliance in March, saying the wording of the proposed ballot measure did not adequately explain what it would do or how the tax would be levied.
Multnomah County Circuit Judge Katharine von Ter Stegge ruled partially in favor of the business group on May 25, making several changes to the ballot title question, summary and explanatory memorandum. The decision was only made public earlier this week.
Following the ruling, the Multnomah County Electoral Division notified the initiative’s backers that they could proceed with collecting signatures. However, they will have little time to mount an effort to win the lead on the November ballot due to trial delays.
Advocates would need to get 22,686 valid signatures — representing 6% of county voters who cast their ballots for governor in the last election — before the July 18 deadline for the measure to qualify for the November ballot.
John Bethencourt, co-coordinator of theRepresentation of eviction for all” initiative, acknowledged that this could be a tall order. He said if the Tenant Rights Coalition and community groups supporting the initiative are unable to collect the required signatures in time for the November ballot, they will instead try to get them in the May 2023 ballot.
“While collecting the necessary signatures before the July 18 deadline for the November elections is ambitious, early feedback from our signature campaign suggests that the urgency of the housing crisis may very well drive our community to do so. “, Bethencourt said in an email. “Many of us worked on the 2020 Universal Preschool Initiative, which successfully met the same signature requirement in an even shorter timeframe.”
The coalition only raised about $1,000 in cash and received about an additional $11,000 in donations of goods and services – more than three-quarters of that in the form of legal representation to fight the challenge of Portland Business Alliance, according to campaign finance records. The coalition did not report any expenditures for collecting signatures.
The initiative would levy a countywide 0.75% adjustable capital gains tax to fund a program that would provide free legal representation to all tenants facing eviction.
The business group said in its challenge that the language of the initiative was misleading, as legal representation would not only be provided to residential tenants facing eviction, but in a wide range of cases, including “applications counterclaims, appeals, collection actions, appeals to maintain Federal Section 8 rental assistance, administrative hearings with the Portland Public Housing Authority, post-foreclosure matters, disposal trespassers and illegal squatters, and more.
The group also expressed concern that the measure does not define capital gains, does not indicate that it could delay eviction cases and does not adequately explain that the tax rate of 0 .75% could be increased.
Von Ter Stegge partly agreed with the business group, changing the wording of the ballot to refer to the tax as “adjustable”, specify that free legal representation would extend to cases beyond the procedure of eviction and note that eviction cases could be postponed until an attorney has been appointed. She disagreed with some of the business group’s other challenges, including their assertion that capital gains tax was not properly defined in the measure.
Jon Isaacs, vice president of government affairs for the Portland Business Alliance, said he was pleased with the court’s changes to the proposed measure. However, he criticized the initiative as extreme and unnecessary.
“Portland residents already face one of the highest local tax burdens in the nation, and this action will worsen our region’s slide into unaffordability,” Isaacs said in a statement. “This is one of the most politically radical measures ever proposed in Oregon.”
Bethencourt said supporters of the initiative were pleased that von Ter Stegge had made only minimal changes to the wording of the proposed ballot and said the business group’s legal challenge would not deter advocates from continuing. to push for the measure to be put on the ballot.
“We are disappointed but not surprised that the PBA has once again attempted to obstruct a progressive ballot initiative in an effort to protect the benefits of Portland’s wealthiest residents,” Bethencourt said in an email.
There has been a growing movement to ensure that at least low-income tenants have legal representation during eviction proceedings. Last year, Washington, Maryland and Connecticut passed a law guaranteeing counsel for such tenants. Thirteen cities across the United States have similar laws.
The City of Portland and Multnomah County both allocated funds for seed eviction legal defense programs for low-income tenants last year.
John Maher, president of Oregonian Media Group, serves as volunteer chairman of the board of the Portland Business Alliance and receives no financial compensation for this position.