Wrap-up of measures voters will decide on for Nov. 6 election


Editor's Note: Over the course of the last three weeks, as part of its Nov. 6 election coverage, Siuslaw News has taken an in-depth look at each of the measures voters are deciding on, from the local school bond measure 20-291 to Measure 106. Each of those articles appears below. If you missed any of those articles on the measures, you can find them here by scrolling through in numeric order...

School Bond Measure 20-291

Measure 20-291: Bonds to Construct and Upgrade School Facilities, Improve Safety Shall Siuslaw School District issue $108,700,000 in general obligation bonds to construct, expand and remodel facilities, improve safety, and enhance curriculum? If the bonds are approved, they will be payable from taxes on property or property ownership that are not subject to the limits of sections 11 and 11 b, Article XI of the Oregon Constitution.

By Mark Brennan/Siuslaw News

One of the local measures on the November ballot asks Florence residents to invest heavily in the educational future of area students. Measure 20-291 requests investment from taxpayers in the amount of $108,700,000, with the length of the bond issue being 31 years. The requested amount will finance major structural upgrades at the Siuslaw elementary and middle schools and a complete replacement of the high school.

If passed, the cost to voters will be $2.72 per $1000 of the assessed value of property owned. A property valued at $300,000 would have a monthly tax responsibility of $68 and a total cost for the year of $816.

The $108 million requested in Measure 20-291 would be divided between the district’s three schools. The elementary school is slated to receive $18,925,269, the middle school improvements are estimated to cost $1,333,329 and the majority of funds, $88,359,075, would be allocated for a complete replacement of the high school.

According to Siuslaw School District administrators and independent consultants hired to assess and analyze the structures and surrounding areas owned and operated by the district, the need for significant improvements at all schools in the district is clear. All three facilities have structural and safety considerations that have to be addressed to ensure the children sent there to learn are not in physical danger while at school.

The school buildings themselves are sub-standard in many areas, including temperature control, lighting and ventilation, which all negatively impact student ability to process and retain information. The structural inadequacies include multiple uncontrolled access points to the high school, a major safety concern, and seismically unsound buildings.

The process of quantifying the problems at the school district began with a technical evaluation of the buildings undertaken last year by PIVOT Architecture. The Eugene-based firm worked closely with Siuslaw School District Superintendent Andy Grzeskowiak and senior staff to prioritize the many issues the district needed to fix, as well as identify the best and least costly manner in which to make those upgrades.

The research showed it would cost an estimated $5.6 million less to build new schools than it would cost to remodel the current buildings to code.

Professional engineers at Systems West Engineering and ZCS Engineering evaluated all facilities from top to bottom, including all subsystems, which gave the district more information to work with than in the past. The reports received from these consultants was thorough and detailed many problems that needed immediate attention.

Examples of the shortfalls in Siuslaw’s school buildings are documented in consultant reports and present significant impediments to providing students with a positive learning environment.

Information provided on the Siuslaw School District website, www.siuslaw.k12.or.us, states the following examples of reasons for passage of Measure 20-291:

  •  The south elementary building and the high school do not meet state or federal seismic and building codes. This means the buildings are considered unsafe.
  •  The plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems at all three schools are at their end of life. These systems are inadequate for current needs, both technological and physical.
  •  Classrooms are undersized and poorly lit, with ineffective ventilation.
  •  The high school has no cafeteria, kitchen or auditorium.
  •  The elementary school is split between sites, sprawls over three blocks and the kindergarten is in temporary classrooms.
  •  The middle school has severe water intrusion damage to the south side of the building.

Additionally, there are more than $40 million of deferred maintenance costs accumulated for all three schools. These costs will remain if the bond is not passed.

The most pressing and expensive element of the proposed improvements for the district are upgrades at the high school. Siuslaw School District has determined that public interests are best served by a complete replacement of the building, rather than a piecemeal approach to repair and upgrades. The high school replacement is estimated to cost $88,359,000 and will take three years, compared to an incremental remodel that would cost $91,616,708 and take five years, as well as displace students and services.

The plans are for Siuslaw’s new high school building to be 159,667 square feet as it offers students an integrated, modern learning center that provides the opportunity for a high-quality education for the next 30 years or more.

The new high school would also provide students with an education that reflects the trend towards increased technology for college-bound students or those choosing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) career paths.

There would also be teaching areas dedicated to career trade-focused students.

The school bond’s benefits would extend beyond the improved infrastructure and technological upgrades and extend into the area of increased safety for students and staff.

Under the current layout, the high school has 17 access points. This is a security situation that experts have determined could allow an active shooter situation to occur. The new high school will have one monitored, centrally located main office that will control access. This is an essential security component in the integrated approach to preventing violent school intrusions.

There will also be an auditorium, a kitchen and a cafeteria in the new high school.

Improvements at the middle school would include replacement of windows and structural upgrades to prevent water infiltration and a resealing of the south face of the building.

There would also be an excavation of the current physical education field and a clean fill for a simple, 60-by-60-foot grass physical education area.

The elementary school improvements would be a combination of an upgrade and a replacement. The oldest building in the district, the south end of the elementary school, would be demolished and a new 18-room structure would be built to adjoin the north elementary school, creating one building, with a single, secure entry point.

The renovations, upgrades and replacement buildings that the passage of Measure 20-291 will finance should address all security, stability and technology infrastructure concerns highlighted in the analysis done by the consultants hired by Siuslaw School District.

The details of the specific improvements suggested and extensive additional information concerning Measure 20-291 is available on the Siuslaw School District website.

 

Measure 102

Oregon Measure 102 — Amends Constitution: Allows local bonds for financing affordable housing with nongovernmental entities. Requires voter approval, annual audits.

By Damien Sherwood/Siuslaw News

Creating communities where people can find adequate housing is hardly controversial. Public and private entities alike strive to combat what has been called Oregon’s “housing crisis,” yet a lasting solution remains evasive.

According to the Oregon Center for Public Policy, half of all renters in Oregon spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities — what the Department of Housing and Urban Development defines as being “cost-burdened.” This burden results in other basics such as nutrition and child care falling by the wayside as those in the most dire circumstances turn to the streets.

While affordable housing efforts exist throughout the state, some complain that these efforts are hampered by not having access to the resources they need — and the source of the problem lies in Oregon law.

As it currently stands, Section 9 of Article XI in the Oregon Constitution prevents county and municipal governments from raising money for, investing in or loaning credit to companies and other private organizations. This delineation draws a clear line around public funds, securing them from private interests and limiting how they can be used.

Measure 102 proposes an affordable housing exception to that rule.

The measure would amend this 1917 provision in the state constitution to allow the use of local bonds to finance affordable housing developments, even when partnered with private entities.

The amendment would still require that these affordable housing bonds be approved by local voters and that the total principal of any such bonds would not exceed 0.5 percent of the real market value of property in that jurisdiction. Additionally, it mandates that “affordable housing” be defined for each bond.

If Measure 102 fails, bond revenue for the construction of affordable housing would remain restricted to projects which are fully owned by local government.

“That makes a lot of sense when you’re talking about bridges, roads and court houses,” said Megan Wever, statewide coalition and communications manager of the Yes for Affordable Housing campaign. “But it doesn’t make sense when you’re talking about affordable housing.”

Affordable housing developments often draw funding from multiple sources to make a project viable, but preventing access to bond funds creates a separation that proponents of the measure say hinders efficient development.

“If a local government passes a bond for affordable housing, they can’t access federal tax credits or state grants alongside that bond money,” Wever said. “A lot of federal tax credits are matching funds. You have to put forward a certain amount of the money to unlock the matching funds, and Oregon leaves funds like that off the table every year because they don’t have the local resources to match it. So it would allow us to open up more federal resources.”

 

The Portland Story

Affordable housing is not a new issue to Oregon and related problems such as homelessness and increasing rent prices have become more salient in larger cities like Portland. As such, Measure 102 was strongly advocated for by Portland City Hall.

In 2015, the Portland City Council declared a state of housing emergency, which encouraged more funding for housing, loosened rules on where shelters could operate and fast-tracked affordable housing projects.

The following year, Portland voters approved their first affordable housing bond, which proposed to raise $258.4 million over 20 years. While the bond was directed toward preserving or creating 1,300 affordable housing units, critics pointed out that far more units could have been included if private developers had been allowed to participate.

Comparisons were drawn to the city of Denver, which in the same year passed its first affordable housing bond as well. Denver’s bond plotted out a 10-year development plan of 6,000 units at a cost of $150 million, leading many to question why Portland’s plan appeared so inefficient by contrast.

Whatever the cause of discrepancy, affordable housing campaigners and politicians soon identified a provision in the Oregon Constitution as holding the city back from leveraging additional funds for the project.

A resulting constitutional amendment gathered momentum.

This year, in a Feb. 2 letter to State Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, chair of the House Committee on Human Services and Housing, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler wrote, “Allowing local governments to leverage general obligation bond proceeds, such as the $258.4 million affordable housing bond approved by Portland voters in 2016, will increase the financing available for affordable housing and maximize overall resources.”

A proposal to amend the state constitution was introduced to the Oregon Legislative Assembly by the House Interim Committee on Human Services and Housing. In just over a month, it had passed both chambers nearly unanimously.

At the same time, Metro, the Portland area’s regional government, has proposed Measure 26-199, a $652.8 million affordable housing local bond measure to be voted on this year. Passing Measure 102 would allow Metro to utilize federal tax credits and state grants on top of this bond.

To hammer the point home, Metro has created two roadmaps under its local bond plan, promising 3,900 permanent affordable housing units should Measure 102 pass, but only 2,400 if it fails.

 

Beyond Portland

Outside the Portland area, the need for affordable housing is also felt, but passing bond measures to develop housing means raising property taxes. For citizens in small cities like Florence, it’s a sacrifice many are hesitant to make.

“It would be a hard battle to get that approved by our voters,” said Florence Mayor Joe Henry.

In the past, Florence has largely relied on private developers or contractors to initiate affordable housing development such as Park Village. Only in the past few years has the city voiced interest in participating in the process by making land available at affordable costs or even for free.

The Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO), a community development nonprofit serving Lane, Marion and Clackamas counties, is the first to take Florence up on its offer. The city’s land donation at 1424 Airport Road has paved the way for NEDCO to build 12 units of affordable housing.

“So there’s an example of a public/not-quite-private partnership to develop affordable housing,” said Henry.

While Florence’s projects have primarily been privately driven, projects like that with NEDCO represent its first attempt to do any kind of private/public enterprise, though Henry is circumspect about the word “partner.” Oregon law prevents a full financial blend.

“We are participants up to a point where we want to provide incentives for (affordable housing) to happen,” he said. “So far, nobody’s really stepped forward other than NEDCO.”

This is where Henry finds room for improvement.

“It’s been fairly difficult to do any affordable, high-density housing because of our codes and our restrictions — cost of land and so forth,” he said.

Though the city has made attempts to provide incentive, making the landscape attractive to private builders remains an obstacle. Such road blocks are not exceptional to Florence and, for smaller cities, the lack of municipal housing infrastructure like Portland’s Housing Bureau adds an additional institutional hurdle.

For proponents of the constitutional amendment, this is a key problem the measure could fix.

“A lot of small cities and rural areas do not have the capacity to implement an affordable housing bond without this change,” said Wever. “Measure 102 gives more local control back to those communities. It’s just allowing another tool in the toolkit.”

Indeed, city councils around the state have voiced their support for the measure, as has the League of Oregon Cities, an intergovernmental entity which frequently advocates for home rule authority and effective municipal governance.

Proximal effects, though, are not expected by Florence’s mayor.

“We have an immediate housing need,” said Henry. “This is a long-term thing and what this requires is that cities actually find somebody with capital to partner with to build affordable housing.”

Florence’s difficulty in finding those partners may forestall any benefits seen by passing the measure.

“This bill could open up additional opportunities for that, but I don’t think they’re very short-term in nature,” said Henry. “I believe that the idea behind this measure is a good one. I think in the longer term, it might allow Florence to help solve some of the housing issues we have.”

 

All Good in the ‘Hood?

Portland provides a testing ground for how these benefits might be implemented, but it remains the only city in Oregon to have passed an affordable housing bond. Treading into these uncharted waters with little precedent worries some who question what unforeseen pitfalls lay ahead, reflected in the five “no” votes the measure received in the Senate.

State Sen. Alan Olsen of District 20 was one of those opposed.

“The reason I oppose it is, it’s too nebulous,” he said. “You never give government unfettered access to your funding without some kind of guidelines … to direct how they spend the money.”

Olsen’s argument finds popularity among those concerned with government waste and inefficiency. Allowing access to public money without clearly outlined oversight or guarantees raises eyebrows for some — “Especially when you make it a constitutional amendment,” he added. “One of the problems I have is that ‘affordable housing’ is not defined in the law. So everybody that can borrow money gets to define what they consider to be ‘affordable.’”

When a bond is voted on, Olsen said, it’s not always clear where that money is going to go.

“We don’t know what ‘affordable’ is. We don’t know the terms,” he said. “When we allow them to borrow the money, we don’t know what the terms of the contract are, so we don’t know what the payback is.”

However, proponents of the bill cite the mandate for each local bond to prepare its own definition of “affordable housing” as among the bill’s strong points. As each community differs in its median income and particular needs, bonds put to the public can reflect these elements.

“You’ll have to convince the voters that there are safeguards in the bond and that the bond is serving the right income levels that that community meets,” said Wever.

Voter control itself, she said, constitutes a significant bulwark against badly-written bonds.

Overburdening the underprivileged also concerned Olsen.

Raising property taxes in the name of affordable housing will hurt some of the very people backers of the bill purport to be helping, he said, such as those who are financially struggling and edging by month-to-month.

“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction,” he said, “and if you put people into homes because you charge somebody else, you might put those people out of their homes. That concerns me and nobody has taken that into account.”

There are also concerns that the proposed amendment does not include safeguards against the risks associated with giving private entities access to public money, though Wever said these buffers already exist.

“There are a lot of safeguards attached to public money and attached to money for affordable housing,” she said. “And every layer of money that you bring in, whether it’s state money or federal money, to those bond funds, adds additional, rigid requirements for how long that housing has to be affordable, who it’s going to serve … and how well it’s being kept up.”

Additionally, some worry the bill lacks independent oversight.

“It doesn’t provide for adequate audits,” said Henry. “The audits under this bill are allowed to be done by the government managing the money. That’d be like me auditing my own tax returns.”

However, most small cities hire third parties to conduct audit reports as it is rare to keep an auditor on city staff.

“The audits and the public reporting required in the measure — that’s an additional piece that’s not required of bonds otherwise,” said Wever. “So it really is an extra level of scrutiny on those funds.”

Even so, opponents of the bill remain uneasy about giving governments and their private partners undue public fund access, and protest that the bill does little to alleviate the state’s housing crisis.

“It’s not that I don’t want to build affordable housing,” said Olsen. “Of course I do. I want to get people off the streets like everybody else.”

 Olsen believes it’s a case of treating the symptom, not the disease. Deeper problems such as restricting urban growth boundaries and accumulating systems development charges only serve to worsen the problem.

“So those are the things that concern me,” he said. “And giving carte blanche without knowing what you’re going get.”

For local governments, though, there remains an appeal to local control when addressing problems as unwieldy as homelessness and affordable housing.

“Communities across Oregon are really struggling with a housing crisis,” said Wever. “There’s almost no county in Oregon where a full-time, wage-earning renter can afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment because rents are rising faster than income in nearly every community. I think Measure 102 is a really small change that will make a really big difference.”

Though proponents argue that the measure adds another tool to the toolbox, opponents worry that the tool will be misused by people who don’t know how to use it — or worse, know how to abuse it. Even accepting that the bill has flaws, the question voters must consider is whether it’s better to implement a flawed plan or no plan at all.

 

Measure 103

Seeks to prohibit sales tax on groceries.

By Damien Sherwood/Siuslaw News

Oregon sits uniquely in the Pacific Northwest as a state without a sales tax. When struggling Oregon families plot out their food expenditures, they can rely on their supermarkets’ price tags without any surprises at the cash register.

Still, in September this year, more than 620,000 Oregonians received help from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), according to the Department of Human Services. With hundreds of thousands of households living on thin margins, many can ill afford price hikes in basic necessities.

A measure on the Oregon ballot this year will challenge a perceived threat to these necessities.

Measure 103 would amend the Oregon Constitution by adding a 16th section to Article IX. It proposes to prohibit taxes and fees based on the transactions of groceries, which would extend to sellers and distributors such as supermarkets, restaurants, farmers markets and food banks.

The bill defines groceries as “any raw or processed food or beverage intended for human consumption,” but does not include alcohol, marijuana or tobacco products.

The proposed amendment has drawn strong support from food and beverage distributors, but finds dissent among a wide range of critics concerned about the bill’s sprawling definitions and lack of necessity.

Oregon does not currently have a statewide sales tax on any items — including groceries — although two Oregon cities, Ashland and Yachats, do have a five percent tax on prepared food and nonalcoholic drinks, which essentially apply to restaurants.

Both were voter-approved.

Ashland first approved its local tax in 1990 to help fund costs associated with the construction of a wastewater treatment plant and to purchase land for parks. In 2009, voters chose to renew it.

Yachats first started collecting its food and beverage tax in 2007, also to pay for a new wastewater treatment facility, and modeled their tax policy on Ashland’s, letting businesses keep five percent of any sales tax they collect to offset accounting costs.

“It has, by and large, been a positive effect on the community,” said Yachats Mayor Gerald Stanley.

Outside of Yachats and Ashland, Oregon does not tax food and beverages, although such a tax was proposed in Grants Pass in 2006 and residents turned it down. This year in Jacksonville, an effort was made to bring a similar tax to ballot, but failed to garner the required signatures.

As these local negotiations have taken place, however, bigger stakes are on the table in the state legislature.

In support of Measure 103, campaign contributions are currently around $4.2 million, compared to the opposition’s roughly $2.8 million.

The American Beverage Association has poured more than $1 million into the support campaign and other major donors include Albertsons, Safeway, Kroger, Costco and the Northwest Grocery Association.

When the initiative received enough signatures this spring to be placed on the Nov. 6 General Election ballot, Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, hailed the moment as a “major milestone.”

A leading proponent of the bill, he said, “Since statehood, Oregon has never taxed groceries, yet politicians in Oregon continue to push for a tax on grocery sales. This initiative will end these efforts and other future efforts by proactively prohibiting the taxing of groceries from farm-to-fork.”

 

The Grocery Tax ‘Push’

Gilliam’s claim that Oregon politicians have continuously sought to impose grocery taxes echoes similar claims made by the Yes on 103 campaign and its supporters — that Oregon politicians have tried several times over the years to institute a grocery tax.

Evidence for this, however, is sparse.

On the Yes on 103 campaign’s website, an advertisement cites specific political moves as proof of such attempts.

First among them is House Bill 2830 from 2017. This bill proposed to increase the state’s corporate income tax; however, there is no mention specifically of food or beverage.

The advertisement also refers to Oregon’s Measure 97, which failed to receive a majority vote in the General Election in 2016. The measure would have removed the cap on the corporate gross sales tax — again, however, with no specific language targeting food or groceries.

Also listed as an attempt at a grocery tax is Senate Joint Resolution 18 in 2015, but government records show that this resolution proposed to amend the Oregon Constitution in relation to an education support fund, wholly unrelated to food or beverage.

House Bill 2330 from 2017 is also found among proponents’ examples of grocery tax proposals, but this bill was “relating to charges for electricity delivered to the public for electrically powered motor vehicles,” according to state documents.

Other cited attempts at the local level are Ontario’s failed Measure 23-58, a broad sales tax, and St. Helen City Council’s unanimous rejection of a proposed sweetened-beverage tax earlier this year.

The lack of proposals to specifically target groceries and the thematic thread of general sales taxes cited among objectionable proposals leave the impression that the bill’s backers are concerned mainly with an overall sales tax — not grocery tax.

Still, in a KTVZ television interview, Yes on 103 campaign spokesman Dan Floyd said that the measure would prevent lawmakers from imposing a burden on the people most affected by grocery costs.

“I think that (the opposition is) in full support of taxing your food and beverage,” he said. “They believe state and local government need the money. And we understand that revenue is important, but we don’t think it should be a regressive tax on the people who can afford to pay it the least, and it shouldn’t be on your food and beverages.”

Regressive as it might be, little evidence suggests that any state politicians are in favor of a grocery tax or that the needy live under its perpetual threat.

Others believe the real threat lies in a subsection of the bill referring to the “corporate minimum tax.”

 

Corporations

  1. Local Control

When Oregon businesses pay taxes, they must pay the greater between two options: (1) roughly 0.1 percent of sales, known as the corporate minimum tax; or (2) 6.6 percent on taxable income up to $1 million or 7.6 percent over $1 million. The minimum tax on sales is capped at $100,000.

A subsection of Measure 103 addresses the corporate minimum tax specifically, stating that the prohibition against imposing taxes applies to this tax as well, effectively protecting the corporate minimum tax from future increases.

The Yes on 103 campaign flatly rejects that the bill is a corporate tax break on its website’s FAQ.

However, in a December 2017 petition to place this initiative on the ballot, the Oregon Attorney General’s office considered an objection raised by the chief petitioners of the bill.

In drafting the “yes” and “no” vote result summaries for the measure, proponents of the bill petitioned unsuccessfully to remove the “corporate minimum tax” reference from the “no” vote summary, positing that it was beyond the scope of the measure. The attorney general’s office disagreed and retained the reference in the summary.

The office explained that, “inclusion of a reference to the corporate minimum tax advances voters (sic) knowledge about the measure,” and that “we believe that a significant effect of the measure is that the corporate minimum tax could not be amended as it applies to sellers and distributors of groceries.”

The attempt to extract a reference to the corporate minimum tax points to an issue seldom brought to attention by the bill’s proponents — namely, that corporations which sell or distribute groceries would benefit from having a certain portion of their revenue immune to changes in state tax policy.

This effective freeze on corporate minimum taxes has drawn attention from opponents of the bill, who argue that it would place grocery sellers, such as supermarkets, in a protected category apart from other businesses.

In an op-ed for the Statesman Journal, Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett wrote, “This dangerous constitutional amendment would take away local control from communities, all so special interests can claim a huge tax carveout.

“What is right for one community can be dead wrong for another, and it should be up to those communities — not special interests — to make those decisions.”

Decisions by the citizens of Ashland and Yachats stand as examples of how local control can extinguish specific challenges to communities.

In Yachats, construction of an updated sewage system was mandated by the state at the time of the local measure and the $8 million project left the small town with few options in terms of revenue. The five-percent tax was met with mild resistance, Stanley said, but has become an accepted feature of the town.

“It’s helped us meet a tremendous challenge,” he said.

In all, arguments for the measure are largely based on its proactive effects — protecting struggling families, small businesses and farmers from a grocery tax which would put such communities and sectors in financial peril. These concerns, however, are mainly referenced by attempts to impose general sales taxes which, local and state, have found contention only within the broader public negotiation of where and when taxes should apply.

Statewide, no taxes specific to groceries have been brought to the Oregon Legislature. Locally, taxes on prepared food and beverage have been limited in scale and respectively approved or voted against in cities such as Ashland, Yachats, Grants Pass and Jacksonville.

The threat of a statewide grocery tax looms somewhat as an apparition in light of this, leaving voters to consider whether their local governments should retain control of such decisions or change the constitution to enact a tax prohibition across the state.

 

Measure 104

Oregon Measure 104 — Amends Constitution: Expands (beyond taxes) application of requirement that three-fifths legislative majority approve bills raising revenue.

By Damien Sherwood/Siuslaw News

Oregon voters will decide this November if the state’s supermajority rule for raising revenue needs to be more broadly defined.

If passed, Measure 104 will amend Section 25 of Article IV of the Oregon Constitution to expand the definition of “bills for raising revenue” to include tax or fee increases and any changes to tax exemptions, credits or deductions which result in increased revenue.

As it stands, this provision in the state’s constitution already requires a three-fifths vote from both legislative chambers to raise revenue, but it has been interpreted by Oregon courts to be restricted to new levies and tax increases that bring money into the state treasury. Proponents of the measure believe this interpretation has opened the door to a range of so-called “loopholes” which allow legislators to skirt the Constitution with a simple majority vote.

Oregon has required a three-fifths supermajority to raise revenue since 1996 when Measure 25 passed with 54.69 percent approval.

In 2015, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled in the case of City of Seattle v. Department of Revenue that reforming or repealing tax expenditures — deductions, credits, subtractions and exemptions — requires only a simple majority vote, changing the playing field for where sources of revenue come from.

One of those sources has been cutting tax breaks. Oregon has around 350 state tax breaks for items like business expenses and interest on mortgages. Eliminating these brings in more money for the government without technically raising taxes. Because Democrats are currently one seat shy of a supermajority in each house, these revenue sources have been an appealing target.

Among legislation was Senate Bill 1528, which passed earlier this year. The bill disconnected Oregon from the federal tax code, disallowing federal tax breaks to a subset of businesses, and thus ensured a steady revenue source of an estimated $244 million over the next two years and a total of $1.05 billion through 2023.

Immediately following her signing of the bill, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown returned roughly $15 million to a segment of very small businesses known as sole proprietorships in the form of lower tax rates — but critics argued it was too little, too late.

“Bottom line, government through tricks and schemes has $230 million in revenue from small businesses,” said Paul Rainey, manager of the Yes on 104 campaign. “That’s not fair.”

Rainey believes Measure 104 is needed to keep such legislation from becoming the norm.

“It stops one party from pushing through controversial tax increases on party line votes,” he said.

Proponents also feel the supermajority rule would encourage bipartisanship from a legislature that has already evinced a degree of cooperation.

“Look at the transportation package. You had Republicans and Democrats come together and find a solution,” said Rainey.

The 2017 package was the largest transportation funding bill in Oregon history and was heralded as a watershed moment for the Oregon Legislature, not just for its comprehensiveness, but its bipartisan teamwork.

“The Legislature showed that they’re willing to work together,” Rainey said.

Measure 104 has found significant backing from the real estate industry, which is eager to protect tax deductions on mortgage interest rates, and other sectors such as agriculture and small business communities which have watched with suspicion as legislators have attempted to impose fees and eliminate personal property tax exemptions.

Critics of these attempts worry a volatile tax landscape could be disruptive and even destructive for businesses already struggling with thin margins.

“If they can change the rules and raise taxes on a simple majority vote, it’s a risk I don’t think we can afford,” said Rainey. “There should be accountability. And a 60 percent vote is a higher level of accountability.”

Although supporters of the bill claim legislators have found loopholes to circumvent the system, opponents argue that loopholes, such as special interest tax breaks, already exist and that a simple majority vote is an effective way to close them. Tax breaks for golf course owners, heated pools and politicians’ meals and gas are commonly pointed to as being protected by supermajority rules.

“It just makes their job easier,” said State Sen. Mark Hass of District 14. “Now they only have to find 12 votes to kill a bill that would remove or modify tax breaks.”

Additionally, Oregon is on a two-year course to collect around $1.5 billion from its thousands of fees on items such as wastewater permits and overnight camping in state parks. Routine updates to these fees are a feature of collecting that revenue, a process which critics of the bill say could be stultified by a minority should Measure 104 pass.

“These are the kind of day-to-day, practical decisions the Legislature does all the time,” Hass said. “And I don’t think you can govern on a day-to-day basis by language in the constitution. That’s not what the constitution should be used for.”

The ability to react to these issues is a feature of flexible government and many worry that expanding the role of the supermajority vote would risk politicizing basic government maintenance such as fee updates and targeting waste.

“We’ve seen in the Legislature in the last 10 years legislators come in and they don’t vote for a fee increase at any point, no matter what,” said Hass. “So that’s a problem.”

The degree of a state’s flexibility is also a measure of its reliability for investors. Supermajority states can be unattractive to capital investors and be seen as less trustworthy by bond rating agencies because of the state’s lack of flexibility to raise revenue. Lower bond ratings means higher interest payments to investors and thus higher costs for new schools, roads, hospitals and other bond-related projects. For a state experiencing a housing crisis, more expensive bonds that impose heavier property taxes would be another log on the fire.

 With Democrats needing to gain just one seat in each house to achieve a three-fifths majority, the measure may in any case be unable to achieve its goals after Election Day even if it passes.

Promises it will encourage bipartisanship may also be fundamentally inconsequential. Although gridlock is written into the DNA of the U.S. political system, the Oregon Legislature enjoys a degree more cooperation than its counterparts.

“We’re a little bit like a Sunday school compared to a lot of state congresses,” said Hass.

Despite the lawmaking body’s spirit of cooperation, Hass said the risk of gridlock would be increased with the passing of Measure 104.

“It’s not that we don’t argue and have healthy debate,” he said, “but there are some lobbyists who would like to get a head start and make an easier go of it by locking this measure up in the constitution.”

 

Measure 105

Oregon Measure 105 — Repeals law limiting use of state/local law enforcement resources to enforce federal immigration laws.

By Mark Brennan/Siuslaw News

One of the most discussed measures on the Nov. 6 ballot is Measure 105, which would repeal Oregon Revised Statute 181a.820, known as the “Sanctuary State” law, which was passed in 1987. The intent of the original legislation was to address racial profiling of people of color by local, state and federal authorities. The law significantly constrained the methods and resources that law enforcement could use to determine an immigrant’s residency status.

 Measure 105 would allow authorities to use all methods at their disposal to detect, pursue and prosecute all illegal immigrants in the state.

Measure 105 was placed on the ballot after three Republican members of the Oregon House of Representatives, Sal Esquivel, Mike Nearman and Greg Barretto, filed the proposal with the Secretary of State’s office in April 2017.

“It’s time that Oregon complies with federal law, like it should have in the first place,” Esquivel said when introducing the measure. “If you want to become an American, become an American. If you want to come here for economic advantages and do it illegally, then I don’t think you should belong here.”

Measure 105 would allow any law enforcement agency to use agency funds, personnel and equipment to detect and apprehend people whose only violation of the law is a violation of federal immigration law.

Jim Ludwick, communications director for Oregonians for Immigration Reform, one of the main financial supporters of 105 said, “We’re seeing right now this big hubbub about the issue of children being separated from their parents when they cross the border illegally. Well, any time somebody breaks the law and they’re incarcerated, they’re always separated from their children.”

Oregon State Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler supports Measure 105 and released a statement explaining that support.

“I see it as way to remove barriers between local and state law enforcement communicating and cooperating with federal officials to keep Oregonians safe. It’s regrettable that this measure is even needed,” Buehler said. “I’m voting for Measure 105. I’m not campaigning for it, it’s not something I pushed for to be on the ballot. But, you know, there needs to be clarity with regard to our immigration laws.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is firmly opposed to Measure 105.

“I feel very strongly that Oregonians believe in fairness — in making sure that the statutes that we have in place that prohibit racial profiling for the last 30 years have been effective,” Brown said when asked about her stance in July. “I believe very strongly, and I know Oregonians agree, that folks want to make sure that their neighbors are safe and feel included in their communities. And certainly, should folks commit a crime, they should be held accountable.”

Patrick Starnes, Independent Party candidate for governor, is also opposed to Measure 105, but for different reasons than Brown.

“I used to be neutral,” Starnes said. “Then I found out a lot of the money was from out of state.”

Starnes went on to mention his opposition to outside interest groups like the Washington, D.C., based advocacy group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which has sent $150,000 to affiliated groups in Oregon to promote passage of Measure 105.

Media outlets and the Southern Poverty Law Center have shown that FAIR has financial ties with white supremacist and other hate groups.

Social justice advocates are firmly opposed to the passage of 105, believing it will reintroduce the unjustified targeting of people of color by law enforcement authorities.

Ramon Ramirez, a leader for Oregon civil rights, is opposed to Measure 105, based on his experiences prior to the passage of Statute 181a.820, more than 30 years ago.

“Before Oregon had this law, I saw immigration agents, aided by local police, busting down doors and grabbing people off the street, with no way of knowing their immigration status,” Ramirez said. “My friends and neighbors, including U.S. citizens, were being harassed by local police demanding to see their papers. There was a lot of fear back then. But this sanctuary law made things a lot better.

“If Measure 105 passes, it would set Oregon back and I worry we could see an increase in profiling across the state.”

The State of Oregon Voters’ pamphlet for the Nov. 6 General Election allows supporters and those opposed to ballot measures to provide a statement detailing the reasons for their position. These position statements are presented under the heading of Arguments.

There are six statements presented that are in support of the passage of Measure 105. These statements of support are all from individuals, not organizations or affiliated groups, and three of them are from the representatives who introduced the bill.

The arguments provided for voters that are opposed to Measure 105 consists of 40 letters, most from groups or professional associations that are concerned with the negative impact passage would have on the state.

Groups that oppose Measure 105 include public health officials, district attorneys, international companies, construction and service industry leaders, religious communities and education entities, as well as the Service Employees International Union, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Democratic Party of Oregon, the Oregon Justice Center and current and former Oregon sheriffs and mayors.

The reasons for these groups’ opposition to 105 varies from social justice concerns to the need for agricultural and construction labor across the state to the belief that all people, regardless of their immigration status, deserve decent treatment and the opportunity to lead productive, safe and fulfilling lives. In all, there are statements from 170 high profile individuals or public organizations that have gone on the record, and taken a strong stand as being opposed to Measure 105.

However, just as with every measure on the ballot, the issue will be up to Oregon’s voters.

 

Measure 106

Amends Constitution: Prohibits spending “public funds” (defined) directly/indirectly for “abortion” (defined); exceptions, reduces abortion access.

By Jared Anderson/Siuslaw News

Under current law, state-funded health plans, or health insurance procured by public employment, can help cover the cost of abortion services, when approved by medical professionals.

The law would prohibit this, except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, or in the case of ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg attaches itself in a place other than inside the uterus, such as in the fallopian tube.

The measure does not ban abortions in the state.

Oregon is one of 17 states that uses its own money to provide abortions to women eligible for Medicaid, according to a June 2018 story by Oregon Public Broadcasting. Federally, abortion funding is banned. In the 2016-2017 fiscal year, Oregon paid for 4,086 abortions.

Proponents of the measure state that the measure is about how the state spends taxpayer funding, and questioning if Oregon should be using money for the controversial procedure.

Opponents say that restricting funding will essentially be a ban on abortions for low-income wage earners.

Those in favor of the measure run the gamut of opinions, from anti-abortion sentiments couched in personal experience, to moderates who feel the state should not be getting involved in the debate.

“My life was shattered by shame,” wrote Linda Burwell of Women for Measure 106 for the Oregon State Voters Pamphlet. “The day of my abortion, the admitting clerk checked me in at a hospital in Portland and asked me to sign a permission form to dispose of the fetus. Until then I’d never heard the word fetus. This growth inside me was a ‘mass of cells, undeveloped tissue,’ not an unborn child. In that moment, I realized I was signing the death certificate for my child. In my shame, I chose my life over his.”

Burwell wrote that Oregon’s current law is making is easy to “erase an entire generation” in a “genocide of the unborn children,” and that taxpayer funds would be better used for education, assistance and help for women to find “other options.”

“I am pro-choice, pro-responsibility, pro-Oregon, pro-women and pro-men,” wrote Angie Hummell of Hermiston.

“I don’t necessarily like abortion (I wouldn’t choose one myself),” Hummell continued, “but I also don’t believe I have the right to tell someone else what to do.”

Hummell stated that the issue was not about access to abortion, but whether or not it is right to ask those who do not believe in practice to help pay for it.

“Having personal freedoms and individual rights are one thing — but asking YOU to fund MY rights is a totally different story,” she said, and then went on to liken the issue to the Second Amendment debate:

“... We all have the freedom of choice when it comes to gun ownership. But it doesn’t mean the government should reach into your pocket and buy my guns and ammo. … It’s exactly the same with elective abortions,” she said.

Opponents of the measure argue that it would not stem the amount of abortions in the state but would only make them more dangerous and costlier.

“Lack of access to abortions harms low-income women and women of color,” City Club of Portland Executive Director Julia Meier wrote. “Policies that attempt to restrict funding for abortions do not reduce the number of abortions sought or obtained. However, these policies do make abortions less safe and contribute to the economic instability of low-income women.”

For Christel Allen of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, the measure is about keeping healthcare available to all Oregonians.

“We believe that every Oregonian — especially those who have historically been marginalized — must have access to the full range of reproductive health care, starting with proper preventative care, and continuing through postpartum care,” she wrote. “This includes access to safe, affordable abortion care.”

Allen compared the measure to the national debate regarding women’s rights, stating, “... We have seen a fervor in attacks on women — we are living in a time when many of our elected officials and policies do not represent the views of the majority. This is why it’s so important that we hold the line in Oregon by opposing Measure 106.”

Fiscally, the measure would most likely have a negative effect on the Oregon tax base, according to the state.

If passed, the measure is inspected to increase public spending by $19.3 million annually, according to a report written by Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and other state agencies.

The report states that $2.9 million would be saved annually by preventing the types of abortions mentioned in the measure, according to the report.

However, there would be an increase of $22.2 million annually from those born due to the ban. The expenditures would come from health care, food and nutritional services provided by the state.

That financial impact wouldn’t be felt immediately, however. The first year is only expected to see an increase in $4.8 million in state costs.

One of the main reasons for budget increase is the income level of those who utilize abortion services. According to a 2017 study done by the Guttmacher Institute, which backs legalized abortion, 49 percent of women who get abortions are below the federal poverty level, a group that traditionally utilizes state and federal social programs.

Organizations that are for the measure’s passage include a variety of grass roots organizations such as Women for Measure 106, Oregon Right to Life PAC, Public School Teachers for Measure 106 and Medical Professionals for Measure 106.

Opponents include the Oregon Medical Association, Oregon Nurses Association, Oregon Public Health Association and the Northwest Health Foundation.