Grocery Tax Opponents Try To Piggyback On Less Contentious Measure

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
Portland, Ore. Oct. 31, 2018 12:03 a.m.

A ballot measure that would preempt taxes on groceries in Oregon, might have a problem. Polling suggests it's struggling to convince voters that such a constitutional change is necessary.

RELATED: Live Oregon and Washington 2018 midterm election results.


Now, the group backing Measure 103 — called "Yes! Keep Our Groceries Tax Free" — is hoping to explicitly attach the effort to a less controversial item on the ballot.

Related: Measure 102 Changes Oregon Constitution To Ease Public-Private Housing Deals

Recent mailers from the campaign urge Oregonians to vote yes on both Measure 103 and Measure 102, the latter of which would make affordable housing bonds more effective in the state.

“Food and shelter are our two most basic needs,” the mailer says. “Voting Yes on 102 and 103 will help ensure more Oregonians have a place to live and can afford to put food on their family’s table.”

Asked about the mailer, a spokesman for Yes! Keep Our Groceries Tax Free suggested it was a natural move.

“The Yes on Measure 103 campaign supports affordable housing and groceries,” spokesman Dan Floyd said. “We think that they go hand-in-hand.”

But opponents of the measure are crying foul.

“By pretending to help children and families in need, the proponents of Measure 103 are doing even more damage to the people in our communities that need our assistance,” said a statement signed by eight organizations and sent out by Our Oregon, a union-backed group that is a chief opponent of the measure.

Measure 103 would amend the state’s constitution to prohibit taxes on food and nonalcoholic beverages. Its proponents argue it would safeguard those items against future efforts for raising revenue in the state. Opponents say it’s sloppily written and unnecessary and would cause confusion if passed.

The measure may have work to do to convince voters it's worthwhile. A poll conducted for OPB in October found 33 percent of respondents supported Measure 103, while 47 percent opposed it.

Measure 102 would also amend the state constitution. It would allow governments that pass housing bonds to lump in that money with private dollars when developing affordable housing. That's currently prohibited.

Measure 102 was referred to the ballot by the Oregon Legislature and is facing no organized opposition.

Jim Moore, a politics and government professor at Pacific University, said the mailer from Measure 103 backers looks like an “attempt by [a] campaign in trouble to attach itself to one that should pass.”

“Since there has been no linkage of the two measures, it is also unclear how this might move voters,” Moore said in an email. “On its face, it looks like desperation.”

Measure 102 representatives have already indicated some discomfort with the mailers. As first reported by Willamette Week, the Yes! Keep Our Groceries Tax Free campaign attempted to report half the cost of the mailers as an in-kind contribution to the campaign committee backing Measure 102. That committee, Affordable Housing for Oregon, suggested that designation wasn't appropriate, the newspaper reported.


Asked whether the Measure 102 campaign was concerned about being explicitly connected with Measure 103, spokeswoman Amy Ruiz said: "Our only concern is whether this causes confusion for voters who care about affordability. Only a yes vote on Measures 102 and 26-199 will actually deliver affordable housing for those who need it most."

Measure 26-199 is an affordable housing bond being proposed in the Portland metro area.

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