Board vote clears path for single universal preschool measure on November ballot

September 4, 2020

Multnomah County residents will vote on a single universal preschool ballot measure in the Nov. 3 election, after the Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Thursday to repeal a parallel initiative at the behest of its petitioners.

Thursday’s vote to repeal the initiative from the Universal Preschool Now! campaign clears the way for a separate measure championed by the Preschool for All coalition and Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson.

Commissioners decided last month to send the Preschool for All measure to voters, after organizers from both campaigns, facing dueling measures, agreed on a plan to combine their efforts.

But because the Universal Preschool Now! campaign had already gathered the requisite signatures to qualify for the November ballot, organizers for the campaigns had to ask the Board of Commissioners for help. 

Under Oregon law, petitioners cannot withdraw a successful petition once they’ve submitted signatures. On Thursday, the Board used its legal authority to immediately adopt and then repeal the Universal Preschool Now! initiative.

“We are doing this at the behest of the chief petitioners of the Universal Preschool campaign, which has testified before this board in support of consolidating the UPN campaign with the Preschool For All campaign that we referred to voters last month,” Commissioner Vega Pederson said. “We believe putting a single measure before the voters will reduce voter confusion and strengthen the likelihood that voters approve the preschool measure.”

While the Board was unanimous in its support for universal preschool, Commissioner Sharon Meieran and Chair Deborah Kafoury expressed concerns about using the Board’s authority to enact and repeal a ballot measure, even with support from the measure’s organizers.

Commissioner Meieran and Chair Kafoury both voted against the plan to adopt and repeal.

“By adopting and repealing UP Now!, this Board will decide that the voters cannot vote on a measure that has gathered all the required signatures and otherwise met all of the requirements to qualify for the ballot without participation of an elected body,” Commissioner Meieran said. “It isn’t our responsibility to substitute what we want or what we feel is a better measure for what has actually been submitted.”

Chair Kafoury echoed those concerns, explaining that she supports the Preschool for All measure that will now stand by itself on the ballot, but couldn’t support a process that she believes undermines the intent of the initiative and referral system. 

“As a mother, as a community member, and as a colleague to the commissioners on this commission, I don’t necessarily want the UPN ballot measure on the ballot,” Chair Kafoury said. “But as a public official, I believe that the UPN measure should be either fully adopted or referred to the ballot.”

Preschool in Multnomah County is among the costliest in the country, even as some 60 percent of families continue to live at or below the County’s Self Sufficiency Standard. Just 15 percent of Multnomah County families have access to publicly funded preschool.

The Preschool for All measure aims to expand preschool access while addressing systemic racism and supporting the early education workforce. To pay for that work, the measure calls for a tax on the County’s very highest earners. 

If voters approve, a 1.5 percent marginal tax will be imposed on the taxable income of individuals making more than $125,000 and joint filers making more than $200,000. An additional 1.5 percent tax is imposed upon individual income above $250,000 and joint filers making above $400,000.  . Individuals making more than $250,000 will be taxed an additional 1.5 percent, or 3 percent total. Taxes would increase an additional eight tenths of a percentage point on the first tier in 2026.

Preschool for All calls for a multi-year rollout, prioritizing Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities identified as high need. By 2030, the program would be universal and free for all children. The initiative would also improve conditions for child care workers by improving wages, instituting cost-of-living adjustments, and providing continuing education and other resources for workers.

“It will positively impact children, families, employers, our school partners, teachers, preschool providers and preschool workers who are overwhelmingly women and disproportionately women of color,” Commissioner Vega Pederson said. “It will be an investment worthy of this moment which focuses on BIPOC communities.”