Making sense of the ballot measures

By Don McIntosh

In the next three weeks, Oregonians will vote on whether to give giant grocery companies a special immunity from taxes, whether to make it harder for lawmakers to end wasteful tax loopholes, and whether to overturn a 30-year-old law that limits racial profiling. Washingtonians, meanwhile, will vote on whether to make the state a national clean energy leader, and whether to reform rules around police use of deadly force. For the following statewide ballot measures, unions are lined up on just one side.

OREGON MEASURES

YES: Measure 102, referred to voters by a near-unanimous legislature, has no opposition. It would stretch public investments in affordable housing farther by letting local governments partner with private housing providers when they spend bond money.

NO: Measure 103 is pitched as banning taxes on groceries, but Oregon has no taxes on groceries, nor any plans to add them. So what’s it really about? Why did America’s grocery and soda giants spend $2.4 million on paid petitioners to get it on the ballot and another $2.5 million since then to carpet-bomb Oregon with campaign ads? Two reasons. One, in other states, some local jurisdictions have passed ”sin” taxes on sugary drinks, which may prove to be a bigger killer than tobacco. Measure 103 would bar voters and elected leaders in Oregon from doing that. But that’s not all. If the Oregon Legislature one day passes a business gross receipts tax – like the one the state of Washington has had for decades, or the one the union-backed Measure 97 tried to establish in 2016 – grocery companies would be exempt. In fact, the measure’s critics say it’s written so broadly it would exempt just the industry from a whole range of possible taxes.

NO: Measure 104 is anti-democracy. Democracy is about majority rule, but in Oregon, a long-ago ballot measure established rule by minority when it comes to one subject: the tax revenue the state needs to pay for everything it does, from schools to public safety to caring for disabled seniors. Thanks to Ballot Measure 25, which passed by 54 percent in a May primary election in 1996, Oregon lawmakers can lower taxes by a simple majority vote, but must have a 2/3 supermajority to raise them. That goes a long way to explain why Oregon now has one of the shortest school years in the country — and the nation’s lowest overall tax burden on corporations. Measure 104 would make that even worse. If it passes, not only will it take a 2/3 supermajority to raise taxes on corporations and the rich, but also to reduce or eliminate special interest tax loopholes. Those tax breaks may be passed with the best of intentions, and some of them may accomplish what they set out to. But lawmakers often find that the jobs that the tax breaks are supposed to incentivize never materialize, or that the cost in lost revenue is higher than anticipated. For example, a few years ago state lawmakers changed a tax law to incentivize Google to install fiber, but Google never came, and Comcast and Centurylink took advantage of the tax break without doing anything new. Measure 104 would make it harder to repeal wasteful tax breaks like that.

NO: Measure 105 would repeal a 1987 state law that bars state and local law enforcement officers from apprehending people SOLELY on suspicion that they violated federal immigration law. Back then, the law passed with support from both parties, in response to racial profiling by police, like a case in which Polk County sheriffs demanded that a U.S. citizen of Mexican descent prove he was in the United States legally. Under the law, local police are still arresting immigrants if they commit crimes. But Oregonians can’t be stopped, detained or interrogated just because someone thinks they might be an undocumented immigrant.

NO: Measure 106 would amend the Oregon Constitution to prohibit public funds from being spent on abortions. It would impact not just the 271,833 women of reproductive age who are enrolled in the Medicaid-funded Oregon Health Plan, but also the 77,344 women who get health insurance as a public employee benefit. The majority of those are union members, and those are benefits they bargained for.

METRO-ONLY

YES: Measure 26-199 is long overdue. In polls, Portland metro residents name homelessness and a lack of affordable housing among their top concerns. Measure 26-199, a $653 million regional housing bond, would make a serious dent in the problem. At a cost to the average homeowner of $5 per month, it would pay to build or renovate affordable housing for low-income families, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities, up to 12,000 people in all. [Bonus: It would also mean union construction jobs!]

PORTLAND-ONLY

YES: Measure 26-201, sponsored by a coalition of community groups, would require retailers that have over $1 billion in revenue to pay a 1 percent surcharge on their Portland revenues — to fund clean renewable energy projects and job training. Sales of groceries, medicine, and health services would be excluded from the tax. About three-fourths of the estimated $30 million a year in revenue would pay for projects like rooftop solar installations, urban tree planting, and energy efficiency upgrades in affordable housing complexes, while about a fourth would pay for job training so that women, people of color, people with disabilities, and the chronically underemployed could benefit from the jobs created by the measure.

WASHINGTON MEASURES

YES: I-940 requires that police be trained for violence de-escalation, mental health, and first aid. It also removes legal immunity, adopts a standard of an objectively reasonable response to a situation, and requires independent investigations of police use of deadly force.

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