SALEM — A study underway to scrutinize Oregon’s nonprofit property tax exemptions might lead to legislation in 2017 to reform the system.

A legislative work group plans to look at the state’s more than 20 nonprofit property tax exemptions to parse out which specific categories of nonprofits are receiving the most exemptions and why. Nonprofit property exemptions equal about $400 million in unrealized revenue, according to the Oregon Legislative Revenue Office.

Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego, who is a work group participant, said she hopes the group will be able to come up with a proposal that lawmakers can agree on.

The work group is yet another sign of a national shift toward reevaluating nonprofit property tax exemptions in the wake of the Great Recession, said Kyle Easton, economist with the Oregon Legislative Revenue Office.

The study will focus on the property tax exemption for museums, voluntary fire departments or literary, benevolent, charitable and scientific institutions, Easton said.

The state estimates that exemption alone accounts for about half of unrealized revenue from nonprofit property tax exemptions.

Some of the exemptions on the books date back to 1854 before Oregon statehood, Easton said.

“The world has changed; the economic situation has changed a lot,” said Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Springfield, chairman of the Interim House Committee on Revenue. “We take on these old, old common law rules at our peril. At the same time, if we don’t talk about them and decide if they continue to make sense or not then we lose a bet.”

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