November 6, 1990 marked a historic change in Oregon’s tax system. Ballot Measure 5, inspired by California’s Proposition 13 (pdf) in 1978, passed by 50,000 votes out of one million cast. The law lowered and limited property taxes, and shifted school funding from local government to the state. Supporters believed it would mitigate soaring property taxes and equalize school funding statewide. Opponents warned of massive chaos created by deep budget cuts, especially to public schools.
In the aftermath of Ballot Measure 5, Oregon emerged from recession and experienced an economic boom in 1990s. As a result of rising property values triggered in part by an influx of new residents to the state, Oregon homeowners saw little relief, and in some cases, a rise in property taxes after Measure 5. So in 1996 Bill Sizemore introduced Measure 47, an initiative to cap the annual rate at which property taxes could rise. It passed, but the following year, problems with 47’s legal wording prompted Ballot Measure 50, which also passed.
In the Measure 5 era, the dawn of an Oregon sales tax seemed like the next probable phase of a tax revolt, which would have created a “three-legged stool” of revenue streams for state funding. But in 1993, a sales tax measure failed by roughly 67%, preserving Oregon as one of five states in the nation without a sales tax. (Historically, Oregonians have rejected sales tax measures nine times.) In the intervening years since 1990, Oregon has faced an almost constant struggle with deficits and declining revenues. In January of this year, voters passed legislative referrals Measures 66 and 67, backed by teachers and public employee unions, which imposed higher state taxes on the wealthy and corporations.
The legacy of Ballot Measure 5 has continued to influence the way Oregonians view the state’s tax system for the last 20 years. For those who experienced it first-hand, it remains one of the most contentious moments in Oregon voter history.
What do you remember about the debate over Measure 5? Have the prophesies for it come true? What impact has Ballot Measure 5 had on you? On Oregon?
- Allan Bruner: Teacher at Colton High School
- Don McIntire: Author of Ballot Measure 5, President of Taxpayer Association of Oregon
- James Sager: Assistant Superintendent at NW Regional Education Services Dist.
- Jim Mayer: Reporter at The Oregonian
- Tom Linhares: Executive director of Multnomah County Tax Supervising and Conservation Commission