SALEM — The November elections guide will say that revenue from a controversial corporate sales tax measure must be spent on education, health care and senior services, despite a legal opinion to the contrary.
Measure 97, formerly Initiative Petition 28, levies a 2.5 percent tax on the Oregon sales of certain large corporations exceeding $25 million. The measure, proposed by union-backed Our Oregon, would yield an estimated $3 billion per year in new revenue.
Each year, a committee of state and local officials composes what is intended to be an unbiased description of the financial impact of each ballot measure to include in the voters’ pamphlet.
The committee is made up of the secretary of state, state treasurer, director of revenue, head of the Department of Administrative Services and a local government representative.
The committee on Friday denied multiple requests to change language in the statement on Measure 97 that “the increased revenue will require increased expenditures by the state in the areas of public early childhood and kindergarten through grade 12 education, health care and senior services.”
The requests were based on an opinion by legislative counsel. The opinion concludes the measure effectively places no restrictions on lawmakers from spending the revenue on other things.
The Legislature “may appropriate revenues generated by the measure in any way it chooses,” according to the opinion.
State Rep. John Davis, R-Wilsonville, wrote in an email to the committee that the fiscal impact statement is “both factually incorrect and also misleading to the public.”
Committee members, however, noted that the Legislature could alter any non-constitutional ballot measure, including Measure 97.
“I don’t think we put that caveat in all of statutory changes in measures in the past,” said George Naughton, interim director of the Department of Administrative Services. “I probably wouldn’t include it just for that reason.”
How the money will be spent is a point of contention between the campaigns for and against the measure. The opposition has compared the tax with writing “a blank check” to lawmakers, while proponents have described the tax as a fix-all to the state’s school and health care funding problems.
Pat McCormick, a spokesman for the Defeat the Tax on Oregon Sales campaign, said the committee could have easily addressed the inaccuracy in the statement by saying the ballot measure “states,” rather than requires, that the revenue is to be used to provide additional funding for education, health care and senior services.
“It’s disappointing,” McCormick said. “I think they are failing to provide the kind of help to voters they are supposed to provide.”
The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.