Backers of a group trying to put a health care provider tax before Oregon voters have turned in well over the number of signatures needed to force a vote.
Oregon Elections Director Steve Trout said the group, led by West Linn Republican Rep. Julie Parrish, turned in 84,367 signatures for verification.
The Elections Division now has 30 days to determine whether there are at least 58,789 valid signatures. If there are, the referendum would go before voters Jan. 23, 2018.
Parrish and two other state Republican representatives — Cedric Hayden of Roseburg and Sal Esquivel of Medford — began gathering signatures shortly after the legislative session to try to overturn sections of HB 2391, which narrowly passed the Legislature in June.
Most Republicans voted against the measure, which they say will drive up health care costs. Supporters of the bill characterize the tax, which targets hospitals and insurance companies, as an “assessment.” They say it’s needed for the state to continue to provide health care to its most vulnerable citizens.
Parrish rejected the idea that it’s an “assessment.” She said that language was crafted by Democratic lawmakers in an effort to hide what the measure would actually do. But she said voters would see past that. “You can call it all kinds of things,” she said. “It’s just a real simple three letter word. It is a tax. T-A-X. And they get that.”
Normally, a legislative measure that is subject to a referendum vote would go on the ballot at the next general election, which in this case would be in November 2018.
In this case, Democrats in the Legislature created a special election in January, so that if voters reject the tax lawmakers can immediately work on alternative funding strategies for health care during the 2018 legislative session.