The Keizer Chamber of Commerce has been pushing against a proposed payroll tax to pay for improved transit service. (Submitted)

The Keizer Chamber of Commerce has been pushing against a proposed payroll tax to pay for improved transit service. (Submitted)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

What’s not to like about expanded local transit service?

Well, the added cost, for one.

That is indeed the case with the Salem-Keizer Transit District’s proposed business payroll tax, which will be on the Nov. 3 ballot. As proposed, the tax would levy .21 percent of a business’ annual payroll which would bring in an estimated $5 million a year. That revenue from Measure 24-388 would pay for weekend transit service, expanded evening hours, holiday service and a student bus pass program.

Both the Salem and Keizer Chambers of Commerce have come out strongly against the tax. The Keizer Chamber is holding a Community Conversation on Wednesday, Sept. 30 from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at Keizer Quality Inn and Suites to discuss the issue. Chamber leadership is encouraging business owners to pick up “Stop the employer tax” signs and to visit www.stopemployertax.com.

“We’re asking Keizer employers and employees to help stop an unfair proposed tax,” Keizer Chamber executive director Christine Dieker wrote in an e-mail promoting next week’s forum. “Businesses are being targeted for an employee payroll tax levied by the Salem-Keizer Transit District. Please take a moment to understand the impact this measure will have on local small business in Keizer, if passed. We want to support our transit district, but we believe that there are better and fairer solutions.”

Cherriots officials announced the proposed tax in late June, after transit directors approved the ballot measure at their May 28 meeting. In the spring, transit directors surveyed members of the public to gauge support for either a payroll or property tax to help pay for transit.

The expanded service would be phase two of the transit district’s Moving Forward plan. Phase one started earlier this month with more frequency on busy routes, buses running on a consistent schedule and more cross-town routes with fewer transfers.

“We asked the community what kind of service they wanted to see. The Moving Forward system improvement plan reflects that feedback,” Cherriots general manager Allan Pollock said at the time. “But, in order to implement phase two, additional revenue is required.”

For a business with a payroll of $500,000, the annual tax would be $1,050. Adding back Saturday service would be the first improvement funded.

The Keizer Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee recently voted unanimously to campaign against the employer payroll tax and wrote an argument against the tax for the voter’s pamphlet.

The argument points out the tax will only be on small businesses, meaning governmental bodies will be exempt, even with state government being the area’s largest employer. The argument further notes the tax is double what is collected from ticket fares, may double in 10 years without a public vote, could deter job creation since less money would be available to create jobs and could increase costs for hospitals and medical clinics.

“Our community does not need another tax on small businesses during an economic recovery already scarce of jobs,” the argument reads in part. “This expansion of services is desired, but should be accomplished through a mechanism that is fair to all, not one that targets a small segment of our community. Please stand with the Keizer Chamber against this unprecedented and unfair funding mechanism that is decidedly not good for keeping jobs in the area.”