Oregon’s Measure 97 is an issue gaining nationwide attention because of what it sets out to do.
The initiative on the November ballot sets out to transform the structure of Oregon's corporate sales tax, creating a massive wave of new tax revenue to be spent on education, healthcare and services for senior citizens.
Roosevelt High School Special Ed Teacher Alicia Brown said she is in support of the measure. She has canvassed neighborhoods and plans to make phone calls on behalf of the "Yes on 97" camp.
Brown said she believes the need for funding in the state's public schools system is critical.
"We've been dealing with years and years of a cut budget,” she said. “If we don't pass 97, those cuts will continue to happen.”
Governor Kate Brown and former governors Ted Kulongoski and Barbara Roberts say they, too, back the measure. If approved, Oregon's general fund could grow by some $3 billion a year, through a 2.5 percent tax on corporate gross sales that exceed $25 million.
While proponents cite the increase in state funding, the idea of taxing gross sales instead of profits is one that troubles some Oregon business owners like Dani Rosendahl.
"Do I think we have a problem and we need some more money in terms of taxes? Absolutely,” she said. “This is not the way to get it.”
Rosendahl is part owner of On Deck Sports Bar and Grill in northwest Portland and is also on the board of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association. She says the board plans to vote "No" on Measure 97 because they believe its impact on the industry would be devastating.
"With minimum wage going up, it's already a concern for us,” she explained. “Utilities are not going to take this tax increase and absorb it, they will raise rates. That's significant on a business like this because our gas and electric bills are already high and they'll go up even higher to the point where we aren't profitable.”
The Oregon Legislative Revenue Office, a nonpartisan agency, says because 97 is based on Oregon sales and heavily concentrated on domestic consumer sectors, it is expected to largely act as a consumption tax on the state economy, which could result in higher prices for Oregonians.
"It's a hidden sales tax under the guise of a business tax,” critic Steve Buckstein said. “It’s smart politics, but bad economics."
Buckstein, who helped found the nonprofit free-market research organization Cascade Policy Institute, believes that based on that report, the state's lowest income families will feel the effects of this tax the most.
Beyond that, he said there is no guarantee state leaders will spend those tax dollars how they say they will.
"Any money going into the general fund means the men and women of the state legislature have full discretion where goes," Buckstein said.
Supporters of Measure 97 argue that's simply not true.
"The measure is very clear, in section three it directs the funding to early education, Pre-K and K-12, healthcare and senior services," Executive Director of Oregon's Consumer League Shamus Lynsky countered.
Lynsky believes the measure would have a minimal impact on in-state corporations and instead target out of state corporations. Additionally, because of zone pricing, the process of setting prices for goods based on locations, he believes consumers likely won't notice a big difference.
"When we looked at the regular costs at five big retailers like Target, Fred Meyer, Walmart, Lowes and Toys R Us,” he explained. “We discovered prices are remarkably similar. So, for very common items like a loaf of bread, a box of cereal, or diapers, the cost is the same in North Dakota which has one of the highest taxes, as it is in Oregon, which has the lowest."
With Election Day quickly approaching, the barrage of Measure 97 ads will stay out in full force, continuing to divide Oregonians across the state.
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