Labor Day is just around the corner, and typically represents the start of campaign season. As such, candidates and campaign staffers hope to head into it with positive momentum.
A campaign that seems to be having no such luck is the one for Oregon’s Measure 97, a proposed corporate tax that is projected to bring as much as $6 billion per biennium into state government coffers. The measure had originally taken the form of Initiative Petition 28 before qualifying for this November’s general election ballot.
Recent weeks have seen multiple claims made by the measure’s proponents to be proven patently untrue. The press has taken notice, and the general public may not be far behind.
Supporters have sworn up and down from the beginning that the funds that would be raised through the measure’s passage will go towards bolstering public services. However, those of us who are familiar with the legislative process know full well that short of a constitutional amendment, it is not possible to bind future legislatures. The executive director of Our Oregon, the measure’s primary sponsor, is a former one-term state lawmaker. One would expect him to be aware of this. I suspect he may be.
The lawyers who work in the office of Legislative Counsel (LC) certainly are. A Statesman Journal article published in early August verified LC’s contention that the Legislature would be free to spend that money however it sees fit. The Democratic co-chair of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee was quoted in another article as admitting that some of those funds could be used to cover the $885 million in projected cost increases for the state’s Public Employees Retirement System, which is not mentioned anywhere in the measure.
An Oregonian article from late July used public records to show that Our Oregon tried unsuccessfully to strong-arm and silence the Portland State University economists it had paid to study the measure into minimizing its impact.
That revelation was mere child’s play compared to the findings of a Statesman Journal article released in mid-August. According to that story, a complaint was filed against Our Oregon with the Secretary of State’s Office alleging that the organization illegally interfered with a signature gathering effort for another ballot measure.
The trend of increasingly unflattering news coverage continued last week. Veteran political reporter Jeff Mapes, formerly of the Oregonian and now with Oregon Public Broadcasting, did a story quoting Governor Kate Brown as conceding that consumers would have to bear some of the measure’s substantial costs. This flies in the face of other claims made by the measure’s supporters, who allege that the billions raised by the measure would somehow magically not be passed on to the average Oregonian through price increases. That claim is, of course, contradicted by economics, common sense and everything of the sort.
But even worse was a Willamette Week article that came out on Friday stating that an estimated annual $100 million of the funds raised from the measure may be constitutionally required to go to the state highway fund and used only for transportation purposes. The measure’s supporters didn’t include transportation as one of the areas that the funds would go towards, but one of its spokespeople finally acknowledged in that article that some of the money could go to other uses.
Despite all of this, state officials have refused to change the voter’s pamphlet statement in support of the measure to correct the misleading inaccuracies. This is only possible because legislation requiring those statements to be true was rejected during the 2015 legislative session by majority Democrats in both the House and the Senate.
I’ve also seen Facebook ads from proponents of the measure claiming grassroots funding support, which is beyond laughable. A previous article stated that all of the $1.5 million initially raised to support the measure came from two $750,000 checks from two of the state’s most powerful special interest groups. I personally know grassroots activists from one end of Oregon to another, and can assure you that most of them would be unlikely able to cut any check in that amount.
So is this measure really necessary? It probably depends on who you ask. The Taxpayers Association of Oregon has determined that this is the number one tax and spend state in the U.S., with state and local governments spending more per capita than our neighbors and 39 other states. Oregon governments spend nearly double what their counterparts in Utah do, and well above that of Washington and California.
It was also confirmed to me the other day by an analyst with the non-partisan Legislative Revenue Office that state tax collections are at historic highs.
We heard much of the same rhetoric from the same people back in 2010, with measures 66 and 67. Most of it was about corporations paying their “fair share,” although I’ve yet to hear anybody, anywhere, give an exact figure as to what exactly that should be. I’m not holding my breath waiting for them to do so, either.
Voters gave the benefit of the doubt to the measures’ supporters and passed them both. But low and behold, it did not solve the state’s seemingly permanent funding crisis. Oregonians didn’t see any resulting improvements in state services. Instead, what they received was the continued widespread abuse of children in foster care, the payout of multiple whistleblower lawsuits and a governor resigning in disgrace amid federal investigations into alleged influence peddling.
At the end of the day, Oregonians deserve to know the truth about the decisions they will have to make in the election. Whether they will ever end up actually getting it remains to be seen.