Oregon Republicans Show They're Serious About Taking Health Tax To Voters

By Ryan Haas (OPB)
July 5, 2017 9:12 p.m.

Republican lawmakers announced Wednesday they’ve filed paperwork to send a recently approved tax on health care providers before voters.

The move is setting up a likely contentious fight over funding Oregon's Medicaid expansion in recent years.


Related: Gov. Brown Signs Health Care Tax, But Possible Voter Fight Awaits

Gov. Kate Brown

signed the health care provider tax into law earlier this week

. It would raise around $670 million dollars in the upcoming budget cycle, most of which would be used to cover rising insurance costs for the state’s Medicaid recipients.

The bill is a key piece of efforts by lawmakers to fill what was once a $1.8 billion budget gap.

But the Republicans who want to send the tax before voters are calling it a "sales tax on health care."

"These new taxes don’t have to go to Medicaid, and the state agency that manages Medicaid has shown a lack of regard for properly managing the program," said Rep. Julie Parrish, R-Tualatin/West Linn, who is spearheading the effort.

"They’ve wasted hundreds of millions of dollars."


Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, and Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Cottage Grove, joined Parrish in the referendum effort Wednesday. They say their goal is to prevent insurers from passing the cost of the tax on to consumers.

Esquivel played a key role in getting the health care provider tax passed in the state House, breaking from the Republican party line to support the Democratic initiative.

Related: Oregon Legislature Approves Reproductive Services Bill

He said changes since that vote, such as bills to provide health care coverage for undocumented children and fund reproductive health services like abortions, has led him to now support sending the tax before voters.

"What’s ensued since is a major overreach by the House Democrats to drive new costs and expand programs when we can’t fully fund programs for our veterans and citizens," Esquivel said in a release. "That’s not how those tax increases were presented to me."

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown criticized the effort in a statement Wednesday, saying it "would jeopardize the care of more than 1 million Oregonians who rely on the Oregon Health Plan."

Brown said health care to low-income and rural Oregonians would be threatened because any ballot measure would likely delay the implementation of the provider tax.

The group of GOP lawmakers will need to gather 59,000 signatures within 91 days after the Legislature adjourns if they want to get the measure before voters.

When exactly voters would see a potential referendum on the tax remains unclear.

Parrish and the other Republicans would like to see the measure on the November 2018 General Election ballot.

But Democrats are currently moving forward amendments that would put the proposed referendum before voters in a January special election.