The biggest item among the seven statewide ballot measures on the Nov. 8 ballot is Measure 97, which would add a 2.5 percent gross tax on the sales of any business with sales in Oregon of more than $25 million a year. It would apply to businesses headquartered in Oregon as well as those headquartered elsewhere and generate about $3 billion a year for the state’s general fund.
It’s not the only measure on the ballot. Others range from letting judges serve past their now-mandatory 75-year-old retirement age to using lottery funds to pay for one-week of outdoor school for fifth- and sixth-graders each year.
We’ll discuss those in more detail below, but about Measure 97:
It would apply to gross sales, not just profits. An estimated 230 Oregon firms, which already pay a corporate tax, would see a tax increases of more than 1,000 percent from an average of $200,000 to $2.2 million. The new tax would generate about $6 billion for the state’s two-year general fund, which is where the state gets most its discretionary funds for such things as schools, social services and law enforcement.
It’s a huge increase, one that doesn’t come with much warning, and little evidence that it was thoroughly vetted. It’s a 33 percent increase of the money already flowing into the general fund, mostly from personal and business income taxes mixed with lottery funds.
True, with large pension cost increases due for tax districts, such as school systems and a $600 million annual increase requested for the Oregon health programs, there are some critical needs. We don’t doubt that money generated by the new tax would help meet those needs, plus whatever else the Legislature wants to spend it on.
Though the measure says it will be used for such things as health care, K-12 education and senior citizens, it doesn’t guarantee that there would be a net increase in money for those uses since legislators could decrease the amount of non-Measure 97 funds.
Legislators ought to find other answers first – total or partial – for the pension issues, such as those being put forward by a bipartisan group led by State Senators Tim Knopp, R-Bend, and Betsy Johnson, R-Scappoose, who are suggesting such things as a $100,000 cap on PERS annual payments to pensioners
About the other ballot measures:
Measure 94: Get rid of the 75-year age limit for judges. There are plenty of 75-year-olds (and beyond) who are fully capable of doing their jobs. In addition to their native intelligence they also have a lot of real-world experience. Let them use their experience to help find justice. If needed, there are other ways to deal with judges no longer competent. Our recommendation: Yes.
Measure 95: It would make sure that the state’s public universities are cleared to make investments in equities, which was the intention of existing legislation but has come under legal question. The state’s higher education system has been eroding in recent decades because costs outstripped revenue and it has pushed heavier reliance on to tuition increases. Measure 95 won’t solve this, but it could help, provided proper care is taken with investments. Our recommendation: Yes.
Measure 96: A tough choice. It would mandate 1.5 percent (about $9 million) of the state’s lottery funds to support services for veterans, which would put it in competition with other lottery-supported services, such as schools, that also need support. There’s little doubt about the need to help veterans and even through the continued use of the lottery as a default fallback position is troubling, especially as the state’s debts mount. Still, the need exists and the debt to veterans is real. Our recommendation: Yes.
Measure 98: We like the theory behind this one, which is to allocate specific funds in a program that “expand access to college-level course, prevent students dropping out and keep them on track to graduate.” Oregon’s deplorable 72 percent high school graduation rate — on of the worst in the nation — is testimony to its need. Since it doesn’t use a new source of revenue to support the program, its value might be questionable if it allows legislators – as it appears to do – to short the general fund allocation to support the program. Its goal is a critically important part of Oregon’s educational component, however. Our recommendation: yes.
Measure 99: This would allocate $22 million in lottery funds to support week-long outdoor school opportunities for fifth- and sixth-grade students. It’s a nice idea, with positive effects for the students, but there are more important ways to use lottery funds, including school support or to upgrade programs to prevent dropouts. Our recommendation: No.
Measure: 100: The measure “prohibits purchase/ sale of parts/ products from certain wildlife species; exceptions for specified activities, gift/ inheritances, and certain antiques/ musical instruments; civil penalties.” It’s aimed at prohibiting trade in animals that encourages a species’ eventual demise. Our recommendation: Yes.