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Opponents Say Portland Clean Energy Measure Could Cost More Than Originally Thought

<p>Supporters of Measure 26-201 rally outside of Walmart and U.S. Bank branches in East Portland on Oct. 9, 2018.</p>

Courtesy of Rick Rappaport

Supporters of Measure 26-201 rally outside of Walmart and U.S. Bank branches in East Portland on Oct. 9, 2018.

Opponents of Portland’s gross receipts tax measure say the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits initiative could actually cost Portland residents more than initially expected.

On Tuesday, the 'No on 26-201' campaign released an analysisthat found the measure could generate up to $79 million through a 1 percent gross receipts tax on billion-dollar companies doing business in Portland.

That's more than double supporters’ estimate of $30 million in annual revenue to pay for clean energy initiatives in the city.

The analysis by economic consulting firm ECONorthwestattributes that range in potential revenue from the measure to "ambiguous wording" in the initiative and loose definitions of "retail sales" and "large retailers." The measures would impose a 1 percent tax on the revenue that large retailers generate in Portland. It would fund renewable energy projects and job training.

Supporters of the measure say they've never seen the analysis until now, and that the timing of its release – and its merits – are suspect. The analysis was completed in July 2018 and was commissioned on behalf of Grow Oregon, a nonprofit that campaigned against Measure 97 – a 2016 gross receipts tax measure that failed at the state level.

"It's simply a standard response from corporations trying to get out of paying their fair share," said Jenny Lee, advocacy director of the Coalition of Communities of Color.

Proponents of the measure, whose steering committee includes community organizations like Verde, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon and environmental groups, say questions over the language of the measure have already been resolved in court.

Challengers argued the measure was unconstitutional. A Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge ultimately denied the challenge.

"All of the issues that were raised around any question that the opposition sought to use as a choke hold on this measure has been litigated," Lee said. "So we're confident that this has been resolved both as a matter of the analysis, as well as the legal understanding."

The measure aims the tax at businesses that make more than $1 billion in gross revenues nationally and $500,000 in Portland. The 1 percent tax will apply to the gross revenue made in Portland.

Opponents of the measure, which include the Portland Business Alliance, have said the tax on businesses will trickle down to consumers at the cash register.

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Ericka Cruz Guevarra