Voters should inform tax reform

As state legislators entertain proposals to change Oregon’s property tax system, we hope they will remember the will of the voters.

In the 1990s, voters clearly indicated they wanted limits on their property taxes and a predictable tax structure.

In 1990, they approved Measure 5, setting a maximum property tax limit of $15 per $1,000 of real market property value.

Although it was replaced before it was implemented, voters approved Measure 47 in 1996, calling for a 10 percent reduction in property taxes.

Voters approved Measure 50 in 1997, replacing Measure 47 and implementing the tax reduction by basing taxes on a new assessed (taxable) value that was 10 percent less than the previous taxable value based on the real market value.

Measure 50 also limited the amount the assessed value could increase each year to 3 percent and set permanent tax rates for each district. The result was a very predictable tax structure.

Instead of a system based on real market values that was susceptible to volatility based on changes in the market, property owners now know what their tax bills will be from year to year.

Taxing districts that rely on property taxes for funding can also predict what they will receive each year.

Further, having an assessed value that has typically increased less than the real market value has provided a cushion for these districts. Unless the real market value dips below the maximum assessed value — the lesser being used to calculate taxes — these districts are not susceptible to devastated budgets if the market crashes.

If changes are going to be made to Oregon’s property tax system again, the voters should determine how it will affect them.

One proposal — to allow voters to choose to pay taxes in excess of the Measure 5 limit — would do precisely that. If voters want to pay higher taxes to help their local districts, they should be allowed to do so.

The Legislature, however, should remember who they serve and leave property tax decisions up to the voters.

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