Will Legislature Kill City’s Garage Slush Fund?

In 2007 64 percent of Eugene voters defeated a city scheme to use the state’s “urban renewal” law to divert $40 million from school and government services and taxpayers to subsidize parking garages and other hand outs for chain-store developers downtown.

Now, the state Legislature is considering a bill to limit Portland’s ability to use the tax diversion financing, Willamette Week reports.

Multnomah County Commissioner Jeff Cogen told WW he objects to a Portland idea to spend up to $40 million in urban renewal to subsidize a private developer’s major league soccer project. “The city is talking about taking money from school kids and the poor to fund a soccer stadium.”

Portland Democrat Nick Kahl has proposed a bill that would require Portland to get county approval for the tax diversion and allow urban renewal money to be spent on social services like helping the homeless.

The bill apparently wouldn’t apply to Eugene. But it could be amended. Using urban renewal for the Eugene public library has been popular with voters here. But diverting school and social service money to destroy historic buildings and trees to build ugly parking garages for developers has not. In 2007 local Rep. Paul Holvey and County Commissioner Peter Sorenson said they were interested in legislative reform.

Statewide a total of about $165 million a year in tax money is diverted for “urban renewal.” That diversion is now occurring at a time when schools are cutting instruction days and/or increasing class sizes and state and local governments are complaining they lack funding for basic safety and social services.