The Avenue

In the Northwest, Angry Voters Dump Pocketbook Initiatives

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Portland Transit Mall--Portland, Ore.--Wikipedia CommonsDespite the Democratic firewall in the Pacific Northwest last week for congressional representatives, many ballot measures thought to be supported by Democrats failed. In Washington state, measures to establish an income tax on high earners, sell bonds for school energy retrofits, and privatize state liquor sales all failed. Additionally, sales taxes on candy and bottled water were repealed and a two-thirds legislative supermajority for tax increases was established (again).

Across the mighty Columbia in Oregon, five of seven ballot measures passed. However, these were not pocketbook measures but more housekeeping on judicial sentencing, veteran’s housing programs, the sessions of the legislature, and bonding limits.

In the Portland metropolitan area, the failure of a TriMet bond measure to upgrade aging buses and bus stops perhaps epitomizes the agonizing fiscal crisis facing municipalities around the country.

Passage would have enabled TriMet, the regional transportation authority, to sell $125 million worth of property tax-backed bonds to address its bus transit needs in the face of an overall $60 million agency deficit. Many Portland advocates for the poor have maintained that TriMet favors its world-renowned light rail system at the expense of buses that more low-income riders use.

Why did it fail? The most compelling reason is that in the weeks leading up to the election TriMet’s union, Amalgamated Transit, has been engaged in a very public spat over their expired contract. It’s headed to binding arbitration, where the union will try to preserve its 100 percent employer funded health care and other benefits that amount to 152 percent of wages according to a recent audit.

Unemployment in the Portland metropolitan area is 10.2 percent.

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