Balancing agreement in the chaos of politics

Balancing agreement in the chaos of politics

Threading the needle of agreement is never easy. Staying focused amidst the chaotic threads of political discourse – especially in today’s fast-paced environment – takes strength and a balance of will.

This past month, the Portland Business Alliance board of directors and staff navigated a complicated, yet incredibly comprehensive process to find agreement around a solution to our region’s homeless crisis. We agree a collaborative approach is needed to solve one of our region’s most pressing issues, and we dug deep to stay engaged on a proposal we’re pleased to see regional voters consider in the primary election on May 19.

There were moments when it would’ve been easier to just say no and engage in negative discourse. Today’s political culture often rewards those who do so, and tends to make perfection the only standard for agreement. But after nearly two years of being at the table, a decade of demanding action from local government, and with many of our members helping to draft this measure, we knew that was not the right thing to do.

In December, members of the Alliance endorsed the policy framework of the HereTogether proposal to provide wraparound services to those currently experiencing chronic homelessness.

In late January, there was a newfound push to get this initiative on the ballot in May, not November, which escalated the conversation around how to fund it into a breakneck pace.

Frankly, the amount of bridge building many did over the last few weeks to bring this to a place for voters to consider in just a few months is a shining example of pragmatism, partnership and commitment. It is an endorsement of the politics of collaboration, and prioritizing progress over division and stagnation. The business community said it was a priority and we did what we needed to do to get to this point.

The framework for the HereTogether homeless services proposal that the Metro regional government will present to voters is targeted to raise $250,000,000 a year through a combination of a regional 1% marginal personal income tax and a 1% business profits tax.

Our involvement and support in the drafting of the framework in this measure helped embed focus, accountability and measurement. It also provides voters the opportunity to consider this again in 10 years.

Let’s be clear. We do not believe that an additional income tax in our already high-income tax state is a great option, but we accept a compromise that provides a shared responsibility among our community.

As a business community, we chose to stay actively at the table because we believe regional collaboration is essential to solving chronic homelessness across county and city lines. And our willingness to compromise on the funding mechanism rebuilt trust around the table for many.

It was a historic moment for our region’s Chamber of Commerce.

We worked with the incredibly diverse and collaborative coalition to keep the aim focused on prioritizing services for those most in need. While voters have approved multiple bonds to build affordable housing, the services needed to stabilize the most chronically homeless -- those who suffer from mental health or chemical addiction -- requires more than just a unit of housing. We know wraparound services and rent assistance are needed to stabilize our fellow residents in need. This measure will also provide funding to expand professional outreach programs to actively move people living on the streets into newly available supportive housing when it comes online.

Additionally, our efforts helped this measure recognize a federally designated metric in the HUD point-in-time count, which will provide voters with the assurance that an independent analysis of outcomes will be transparent and widely available.

We believe the success of this initiative should be linked with how voters feel their taxes are being spent. A 10-year sunset will provide a reasonable scaling period, as well as a chance to measure success over time, and then ask voters to reinvest. We also believe accountability is essential. Dollars generated through this initiative should not replace existing funding but layer on additional resources to improve service. More work needs to be done to ensure that the compromise revenue mechanisms of a regional income tax and business profits tax do not double tax some business owners. As they refine this initiative, we are encouraging Metro to do further analysis of this concern and clarify the issue of double taxation. We also will be working closely with our public partners to ensure this measure helps to keep our streets safe and welcoming for everyone.

Solving homelessness is the top issue for the business community and our region’s residents – and yet all of us must be sensitive to the fact that repeated tax increases jeopardize our region’s affordability.
As we move forward this election season, let’s not lose focus on the very things that make our region such an accessible and attractive place to live, work and raise a family.
New revenue for worthy policy must avoid raising the cost of living for our region’s residents.

I think that’s something we can all agree on.

Vanessa Sturgeon is chair of the Portland Business Alliance board of directors and is president and CEO of TMT Development.