Watching Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton brawl during last week’s debate might have reminded you of that big choice we will be making in November. I’d like to turn your attention to a vote that, if passed, could be more impactful for Oregonians.
Ballot Measure 97, backed by Governor Kate Brown, may be the largest tax increase in the nation.
Measure 97, formally titled Oregon Business Tax Increase Initiative, calls for a 2.5 percent gross sales tax on businesses making more than $25 million per year in Oregon sales. The tax could generate an estimated $3 billion per year in Oregon state revenue. This revenue is to be put towards education, healthcare and services for senior citizens.
Supporters of Measure 97 argue that it’s time for large corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes. They claim it would stabilize the state budget so legislators can invest in Oregon’s children and families.
The additional funding for education is what hits home the most for me as a student. I come from Illinois Valley High School, where we average a mere 66 percent graduation rate. Every year I saw cuts to my elective choices, saw rising class sizes and teachers struggling to cram the required information into an ever-shrinking class time.
The numbers don’t look good for the rest of the state either. Oregon has the 4th lowest graduation rate in the country and the 3rd largest class sizes according to the Oregon Parent-Teacher Association.
“LCC is struggling to maintain its reputation as one of the best community colleges in the U.S. Ballot Measure 97 is an opportunity to stabilize programs and control the rising cost of tuition,” Sharon Stiles, Chair of Lane’s Board of Education, said in a letter to the Register Guard Friday, Sept. 30. This came after Lane’s Board of Education formally endorsed Measure 97 during a meeting in September.
It is unclear how Measure 97 would accomplish those things that Stiles said, since it only promises funding up through grade 12. However, by preparing our youth for colleges like Lane we might see an increased enrollment rate and students more ready to take on Lane’s most rigorous courses.
Opponents of Measure 97 warn that the cost of the new tax will be pushed onto the consumers, calling it a hidden sales tax.
To me, it is obvious that this will be true to some extent. While many of the large corporations in Oregon operate at a huge profit and can afford this tax increase, others may not be able to without raising prices. What I don’t believe is that this price increase will be nearly as large as a direct sales tax.
According to the Oregon Consumer League the large corporations subject to this tax use national pricing strategies that don’t take into account local tax differences when setting their prices. Right now places like Walmart and Target set prices the same in Oregon as they do elsewhere despite paying less taxes in Oregon.
I fail to understand how someone could assert that a tax on corporations making over $25 million per year is a regressive tax, yet the campaign in opposition to Measure 97 does so repeatedly. A regressive tax rate would be one where the largest corporations are taxed less while small businesses and low income workers are taxed more. Measure 97 does the exact opposite of that.
The other major concern raised by those in opposition is that the wording of Measure 97 is sloppy and does not necessarily guarantee funding for education, healthcare and services for senior citizens.
Section 3 of Measure 97 says that, “All of the revenue generated from the increase in the tax created by this 2016 Act shall be used to provide additional funding for: public early childhood and kindergarten through twelfth grade education; healthcare; and, services for senior citizens.”
It seems that those making that argument assume we are all too lazy to read for ourselves. Measure 97 is very clear about where the new tax revenue will be going.
I am done with Oregon having one of the worst educational systems in the country. I think investing in our youth’s education is extremely important for Oregon’s progress both economically and socially.
Oregon voters are understandably split on Measure 97. Many are jaded when it comes to taxes and fear that it will serve to slow down the economy while offering no real benefits. I would prefer if Measure 97 was a tax on profits rather than gross sales considering that is a more standard approach.
That being said, the pros outweigh the cons solidly here so I will be voting yes. Politics can be a very slow and painful process so if we let Measure 97 slip through our fingertips it could be many years before Oregon schools get their necessary funding.