A citizens’ panel that reviews Oregon ballot initiatives for the voters’ pamphlet has endorsed a controversial corporate sales tax measure on the November ballot.
Measure 97 would levy a 2.5 percent tax on certain corporations’ Oregon sales exceeding $25 million.
The citizens panel heard from both sides of the proposal before voting 11-to-9 on Sunday to endorse the measure. Its key findings will be published in the state voters’ guide, which goes out to most voters by Oct. 19.
The tax would raise an estimated $6 billion every two years in additional revenue at a time when the state faces an estimated $1.4 billion shortfall to maintain existing services.
Supporters cited the shortfall and a study by Ernst & Young ranking Oregon 50th in the lowest rate of corporate taxation as reasons for the endorsement.
“We are currently in a crisis of underfunded public education, healthcare and senior services,” the supporters wrote in a statement. “The passage of Measure 97 would quickly fix this.”
Panelists who voted against the endorsement cited a study by the Legislative Revenue Office that shows the tax would drive up the prices of daily items such as food and fuel for the typical family by $600 a year.
That study also showed job growth would slow significantly in the private sector while public sector jobs would increase.
“A regressive tax takes a larger percentage of income from low income earners creating an unnecessary burden on many Oregon families,” panelists wrote in a statement of opposition.
The endorsement marks another victory for the union-backed campaign for Measure 97. Earlier this month, the measure won an endorsement from Gov. Kate Brown. Another research committee recommended last week that the City Club of Portland endorse the measure.
“It’s clear that when Oregonians get the facts about Measure 97, they agree it’s time to hold large and out-of-state corporations accountable,” said Katherine Driessen, a spokeswoman for Our Oregon, the nonprofit backing the measure. “Oregon ranks 50th in the country in corporate taxes, leaving our schools and critical services badly underfunded.”
The campaign against the measure said panelists ignored research that showed consumers would bear most of the burden from the tax.
“We disagree with the conclusions of the panelists who voted to support Measure 97 despite the fact that most of the $6 billion measure will be paid by Oregon consumers through higher prices for the services and goods they buy every day — clothing, groceries, electricity, medicine, insurance, even medical care,” said Rebecca Tweed, Defeat the Tax on Oregon Sales campaign coordinator.
Lawmakers approved the creation of the citizens panel in 2011 based on a concept developed by Health Democracy Oregon. The creation of the panel “marked the first time a legislature has made voter deliberation a formalized part of the election process,” according to the Healthy Democracy Oregon website.