The fate of a $1 billion education package passed in May, funded by a new tax on business, will likely rest with those who turn out for statewide ballot measures. In their final days, the legislature passed two bills (among many): one set January 2020, rather than November, as the date for a potential ballot measure vote on the tax. The other sets March 2020 as an expiry date for the entire education bill should the tax come to the voters and fail.
The tax would be a 0.57 percent tax on businesses with more than $1 million in revenue annually. Unlike other gross receipts tax proposals, businesses are allowed to deduct portions of their costs, and also exempts food, health care, gasoline and other sales from the tax.
Business lobbying groups are petitioning to force the tax to be held as a ballot measure, an effort some observers say will likely succeed because of the relatively low 75,000 signature requirement.
This education funding package was already the product of compromise with Republicans who walked out over the original $2 billion bill, and with Oregon Business & Industry, the state’s largest business lobbying group. OBI promised to remain neutral on the tax.
The petition challenge is being brought by a new upstart group called Oregon Manufacturers and Commerce. The Advocate previously reported in June how this group was formed by former lobbyists concerned with the influence of “extreme environmental agendas” in the legislature.
Democrats’ rescheduling of the vote suggests they also believe the petition will succeed. They likely want to hold the ballot while they still have voters’ attention, and to separate the measure from the politics of the presidential elections in November 2020.
By Ian MacRonald