Portland Business Alliance can challenge proposed capital gains tax to help tenants facing eviction

The Portland Business Alliance will be allowed to challenge the wording of a proposed Multnomah County capital gains tax that would provide lawyers to tenants facing eviction.

Multnomah County Circuit Judge Katharine von Ter Stegge ruled Wednesday that the business group met the deadline to challenge the ballot title and explanatory statement for the proposed measure, even though a technical error by the group’s attorney, Steve Elzinga, led the court clerk to reject the initial objection.

Von Ter Stegge will rule on the merits of the challenge following a hearing on May 3.

A coalition of tenants’ rights and community groups are aiming to get the “Eviction Representation for All” initiative on the November ballot. The initiative would levy a countywide 0.75% capital gains tax to fund a program that would provide free legal representation for all tenants facing eviction.

The Portland Business Alliance said in its court filing that the proposed description that proponents submitted does not adequately explain what the measure would do or how the tax would be levied.

The business group said the wording was misleading because the legal representation would not only be provided to residential tenants facing evictions, but in a broad array of cases, including “counterclaims, appeals, collection actions, appeals to maintain assistance under federal Section 8 rent assistance, administrative hearings with the Portland Public Housing Authority, post-foreclosure matters, removal of illegal trespassers and squatters, and more.”

The group also raised concerns about the measure failing to define capital gains and inadequately explaining that the 0.75% tax rate could be increased at any time. The summary in the proposed measure states, “Tax rate may be increased or decreased based on annual reports.”

After Von Ter Stegge agreed to allow the business group’s challenge to move forward Wednesday, attorney Margaret Olney, who is representing the chief petitioners for the ballot initiative, called on the judge to hear the challenge expeditiously to give petitioners enough time to get the signatures they need to get the measure on the November ballot.

The petitioners would need to obtain 22,686 valid signatures – representing 6% of county voters who voted for governor in the last election – for the measure to qualify for the ballot.

There has been a growing movement toward ensuring that at least low-income tenants have legal representation during eviction proceedings. Washington, Maryland and Connecticut passed legislation last year guaranteeing counsel for those tenants. Thirteen cities across the United States have similar laws.

Both the City of Portland and Multnomah County allocated money to seed eviction legal defense programs for low-income renters last year.

John Maher, president of Oregonian Media Group, is volunteer board chair of Portland Business Alliance and does not receive any financial compensation for the position.

— Jamie Goldberg; [email protected]; @jamiebgoldberg

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