The grocery industry on Tuesday filed a ballot measure with the Oregon Secretary of State that would constitutionally prohibit taxes on the sale of groceries.
The proposed initiative comes as the state's major political powers — the labor and business communities — continue to be at odds over how the state raises and spends money for education and other public services.
The new measure is financed by the Northwest Grocery Association, which launched a website promoting the "Yes! Let's Keep Our Groceries Tax Free" initiative.
Joe Gilliam, the association's president, said his group wanted to make it clear how far it's willing to go to avoid a tax on corporate sales.
"We've got to shift the Legislature off the discussion that the gross receipts tax is the answer," said Gilliam. He argued that grocers operate on a low margin and that such a tax would lead to higher prices.
Walmart, Kroger and other grocers played a major role in helping finance the campaign against the 2016 initiative Measure 97. It would have raised taxes on the state's largest corporations. It was defeated after the most expensive measure campaign in Oregon history.
Proponents of the corporate tax returned with a new proposal but couldn't get the Legislature to approve it. The Oregon Education Association now says it is looking toward moving forward with a slimmed down version of Measure 97 for the 2018 ballot. The teachers' union and other advocates argue that corporations don't pay their fair share of taxes in Oregon and they argue that business wouldn't be able to shift most of a gross receipts tax onto consumers.
Altogether, retailers would have paid about 21 percent of the taxes under Measure 97, according to a report from the Legislative Revenue Office. And grocery sales are a subset of that.
Ben Unger, executive director of Our Oregon and head of the pro-Measure 97 campaign, said Tuesday that he hadn't yet studied the grocers' initiative. But he derided the idea of a special carve-out from taxes for Walmart, one of the nation's largest corporations.
If the grocers decide to go ahead with the initiative, they would need to collect just over 117,000 signatures by next July.