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Backers Of Corporate Tax Hike Will Continue Fight, Despite Ballot Loss

Backers of Oregon's Measure 97, a corporate tax hike, are developing plans for what to do next.

Backers of Oregon’s Measure 97, a corporate tax hike, are developing plans for what to do next.

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

Supporters of increasing corporate taxes in Oregon say they aren’t giving up despite their big loss in last week’s election. 

A coalition of progressive groups led by the state’s major public employee unions say they will now press the Legislature to hike taxes on large corporations. 

The coalition, A Better Oregon, held a rally Thursday at a Planned Parenthood office in Northeast Portland to make it clear they are not deterred by the loss of Measure 97 — even though voters rejected it by nearly 20 percentage points.

Brian Rudiger, the incoming executive director of Local 5093 of Service Employees International Union, argued lawmakers and voters will increasingly see the need for more taxes as cuts to schools and health care loom.

The state faces a growing budget shortfall that now tops $1.5 billion and Rudiger said the Trump administration could also cut aid to states.

“I think there is potential for the budget hole to get considerably worse,” he said, “which is all the more reason why we have to be asking corporations to pay their fair share.”  

The union-led coalition said it will also seek legislation that would force larger corporations to disclose how much they pay in taxes in Oregon. They argued during the debate over Measure 97 that the state has the lowest corporate taxes in the country.

The Council on State Taxation says Oregon has the nation’s lowest business tax burden, in part because the state does not have a sales tax. Opponents of Measure 97 point out corporate tax rates are not among the lowest in the country.

Pat McCormick, a board member of Associated Oregon Industries and a spokesman for Measure 97 opponents, said the business community is willing to consider more taxes for the state. But he said that needs to be coupled with cost-cutting, particularly in regards to the state’s Public Employees Retirement System. 

PERS faces a long-term shortfall of $22 billion and schools and other public agencies face years of cost increases for pensions.

“If PERS is non-touchable, the tax system is non-touchable,” McCormick said.

However, leaders of A Better Oregon say they aren’t willing to consider pension cuts. Rudiger said it’s not fair to force public workers to “retire into poverty” while corporate taxes are so low.

As labor and business head into next year’s legislative session, they’re both continuing to build their clout. 

The state’s two major business lobbies, Associated Oregon Industries and the Oregon Business Association, announced this week they are merging. And A Better Oregon said it has built a strong coalition through an extensive grassroots campaign that reached tens of thousands of Oregon households.

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