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Voting It Down
Oregon voters have rejected a sales tax every time it's been on the ballot, and on our recent Total Tax Makeover show Don McIntire, the president of the Taxpayer Association of Oregon, said it had always gone down three to one. Some little bell went off in my head that that wasn't quite right and I pressed him on it. Turns out it was a pretty small bell!
According to this PDF of votes Don compiled, some incarnation of a sales tax has been on the Oregon ballot twelve times between the first vote in 1933 and the most recent, in 1993. Nine times it was voted down by roughly 3:1 (the biggest ratio against it was 8:1 in 1969.) Nine is the usual number used to say how many times Oregonians have rejected the sales tax. But three sales tax measures went down by somewhat lower ratios in 1973 and 1990. It was that 1973 vote that triggered the bell in my head during the program. 58% of voters rejected a sales tax then and 42% approved — a no:yes ratio of roughly 3:2. (The other votes, both in 1990, failed by ratios of 3:2 and 2:1.)
Enough numbers? The interpretation of the ballot measures is actually the more interesting part. Don McIntire lists those three votes as "related" to sales tax votes. OPB political analyst Bill Lunch says the three actually should be counted in a complete list of sales tax votes. He says the 1990 votes were advisory, not binding, but still serious votes. Thus the confusion as to what counts as failing, and by how much. Hope this clears it up. They all have certainly failed!