A campaign in Oregon is being bitterly fought, with vast sums spent by both sides on TV and other ads, even more money than for the governor’s race.
The titanic tussle is over a proposed tax that is aimed at the companies making the most sales in the state, but opponents — including major corporations — say every Oregonian will be affected.
Both sides have arrayed armies of experts who say the tax on companies’ sales of more than $25 million will trigger a rise in prices, or that such a scenario is bogus. The conclusions of the assessments, broadcast on TV and blanketing social media, depend on whether the well-heeled campaigns are for or against Measure 97.
While it might be impossible to predict if companies will raise prices if the measure passes, this much is certain: Oregonians abhor sales taxes. Oregon is one of only five states in America that doesn’t have them. Oregonians have rejected sales tax proposals nine times in nearly 90 years.
Consumers would not be directly taxed by the measure, which is expected to increase state revenue by $3 billion per year, not $6 billion. Many businesses that have narrow profit margins feel threatened because sales would be taxed, not profits. The minimum tax for companies with more than $25 million in sales in Oregon would be 2.5 percent of the excess over $25 million, plus $30,001.
The Legislative Revenue Office says the tax would wind up costing each Oregonian at least $600 a year.
Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said she supports the measure because the state budget is facing a $1.3 billion deficit, and the money is needed to help fund education, health care and senior services.
Even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders weighed in on it, saying in a statement Wednesday that “at a time of massive income and wealth inequality, it is time for large profitable corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes. That is why I am supporting Oregon 97.”
Otto Schell, legislative director for the Oregon PTA and spokesman for the Yes On 97 campaign, on Thursday cited a state Department of Education report that said Oregon’s class sizes are among the largest in the nation. “Without revenue to hire more teachers, we will continue to slip lower in nearly every marker for our kids and schools,” he said.
However, the money might not necessarily go solely for education, health and senior services because it would land in the general fund, which the legislature can spend as it sees fit.
The amount spent on local TV ads both for and against Measure 97 dwarfs the gubernatorial race ads, surpassing $7.6 million, according to The Center for Public Integrity. In contrast, roughly $1.9 million has been spent on local TV ads in the gubernatorial race. The Center for Public Integrity analyzed data about political advertising on broadcast television from Kantar Media/CMAG, a tracking firm that monitors 211 media markets around the country.
Funding for the campaign against the measure comes from mostly out-of-state corporations, said Ben Morris, a spokesman for the Vote Yes On 97 campaign.
“Our largest donor is the Oregon Education Association,” Morris said. The OEA is a union that represents about 45,000 educators working in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 public schools and community colleges.
Among the biggest contributors to the Defeat The Tax On Oregon Sales campaign are Costco with $900,000, Kroger/Fred Meyer with $900,000, and Comcast with $465,000. Comcast refused to air pro-Measure 97 ads that claimed the broadcasting and cable TV company was avoiding paying taxes in Oregon unless spoken and illustrated references to Comcast were removed from the ads.