Raising or lowering taxes on the rich, boosting or busting unions, increasing the minimum wage — it’s all on the ballot Nov. 8 in the Northwest and around the country.
In Oregon, the game-changer is Measure 97, a union-sponsored initiative that would raise $3 billion a year for schools, health care and senior services with a 2.5 percent corporate tax on in-state gross receipts of over $25 million. The tax would affect only the top quarter percent of corporations, and leave small business and consumers untouched. Big business has now contributed $25 million to defeat it, while labor has spent $13 million to pass it, making it the most expensive ballot fight in Oregon history. If it passes, Oregon will no longer have the nation’s third-largest class sizes, and shortest school years. And the state might benefit from spillover effects. One legislative legal opinion says Measure 97 would result in $250 million a year in additional road maintenance funds. (To the extent that gas companies are taxed, the Oregon Constitution may be interpreted to require those funds be spent on roads.) And that doesn’t count the hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure investments that the measure would enable: The state’s capacity to issue bonds depends on its income, and Measure 97 would increase its income.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the big deal ballot measure is I-1433, which would raise the state minimum to $13.50 by 2020 and guarantee up to seven paid sick days to all workers. Washington is one of five states to vote on the minimum wage Nov. 8. Arizona, Colorado, and Maine will vote on measures to raise it to $12 by 2020, and the Arizona measure, like Washington’s, also mandates paid sick leave. And in South Dakota, voters will get a chance to veto a Legislature-passed law that lowered the minimum wage for workers under 18.
In Alabama and Virginia, anti-union groups have placed right to work measures on the ballot — to make union dues strictly voluntary in order to de-fund and weaken unions.
Finally, there’s the choice of president, and what a choice. Donald Trump, a billionaire who hasn’t paid taxes in decades, is proposing a massive tax cut for the rich. He made American-made a cornerstone of his campaign, but his private label clothes are made in China, and he used Chinese steel and undocumented labor to construct his buildings. Hillary Clinton, backed by almost the entirety of the labor movement, is an 11th hour critic of NAFTA-style trade deals, but she’s called for greater infrastructure investment, and is proposing to raise the minimum wage and guarantee paid family and medical leave for the birth of a child. Whichever of them is elected will make lifetime judicial appointments, and determine who’s in charge of federal agencies that are vital to the wellbeing of working people, including those that enforce workers’ union rights, occupational safety, wage and hour laws.