Portland area voters tax themselves at the May 21 primary election

Portland area voters were surprisingly generous with the tax dollars at the May 21 primary election.

Money measures were passing throughout the metropolitan region in early unofficial results, some by large margins. They include continued or new property tax dollars for the Oregon Zoo, Portland Public Schools, the Portland Bureau of Transportation, flood protection along the Columbia River, and several public safety and park agencies.

One of the few losses was a $149 million bond measure proposed by the Estacada School District.

Some political observers had predicted voters would be reluctant to approve tax measures because several recent surveys found deep dissatisfaction with their elected officials and the direction of their communities. Instead, just the opposite appears to have happened.

“I expected them to pass, especially because some were extensions of existing taxes. But I was surprised there was a larger protest vote with people voting no to send a message,” said political consultant Rick Metsger.

Votes will continue to be tallied and released in coming days. Ballots postmarked by 8 p.m. on May 21 will be counted if received at elections offices within seven days. 

Metro voters were passing the regional government’s $380 million bond measure to enhance the Oregon Zoo by 55% to 45%. Measure 26-244 is intended to improve animal facilities and visitor access.

“The zoo is the state’s most significant attraction for visitors, making it so important not just for our conservation efforts at the zoo, but for bringing back tourism to downtown Portland,” Metro Council President Lynn Peterson said at an event on Wednesday, May 22. “So I’m so very happy that the voters saw all of the potential that the zoo has to offer, from the kiddos all the way to bringing downtown back.”

The zoo bond passed in all three counties that are within the Metro region. Multnomah County was the least supportive, with 53% of voters in favor, as of May 23. In Clackamas County, 57% of voters supported the bond. Washington County was the most supportive, with 58% of voters in favor.

The Urban Flood Safety and Water Quality District bond measure was ahead 69% to 31% as of May 23. It is intended to raise $150 million to match $100 million in federal funds to upgrade levees, pump station, and other infrastructure along the Oregon side of the Columbia River. Much of the safety system has not been improved since the 1948 flood that destroyed the former city of Vanport.

The bond measure makes “investments that will protect large businesses and employers near the Columbia River, ensuring that their investments are protected from potential flooding. It also protects the multibillion dollar investments at the Portland airport,” Peterson said.

Portland Public Schools voters were passing the district’s five-year local option levy by 73% to 27%. Measure 26-246 is intended to raise $532.3 million to preserve around 650 teaching and support jobs.

“Portland voters once again delivered a big win for our schools and our students. What was at stake was essential funding for more than 650 teachers in our schools,” PPS board member Julia Brim-Edwards said on election night. “We know that voters are concerned about the level of taxes they pay and that they consistently show up to support our public schools … So I’m very appreciative.”

Portland voters renewed the city’s 10-cent a gallon gas tax, with 72% in favor as of May 23. Measure 26-245 will continue the Fixing Our Streets tax first approved by voters in 2016 and renewed in 2020. Over the past eight years, it has generated around $150 million which has been used to repave 80 lane miles of streets, fill over 40,000 potholes, and complete over 200 safety improvements. Even with the gas tax renewed, the Portland Bureau of Transportation is facing a major backlog of transportation maintenance projects due to funding shortages.

“This local gas tax is essential for preserving our transportation infrastructure and improving safety,” said Portland Transportation Commissioner Mingus Mapps and chair of the gas tax renewal campaign and commissioner in charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation. “Voters understood our message, and voted to keep our streets safe.”

Gresham voters were approving a five-year Safety Levy by 56% to 44% as of May 23. Measure 26-247 will provide additional funds to Gresham Police Department and Gresham Fire & Emergency Services.

Other measures that were passing include additional funds for the Tigard Police Department, Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, and the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District.


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