Voters in the Sisters School District have approved collection of $1.2 million in extra funds for their schools for this year through a local option levy, but the schools will get only about $970,000. In Jefferson County, the jail levy will collect about $1.2 million rather than the $1.4 million voters approved.
Similar problems exist across the state, caused by statewide property tax caps approved by voters under Measure 5 in 1990.
The League of Oregon Cities wants the Legislature to give voters a chance to change that, and it should. Voters should be free to tax themselves for something they value.
The League’s proposal itself wouldn’t raise anybody’s taxes. It asks the Legislature to put a measure on the ballot. If voters approved the measure statewide, local option levies would get the same treatment that now exists for construction bonds, placing them outside the Measure 5 limits.
A separate vote by a local community would still be needed for any actual local tax increase.
Without the change, application of so-called compression to local option levies will continue to create bizarre inequities and cut local voter power. Under compression, an individual property’s tax bill can’t exceed $5 per $1,000 of real market value for schools, plus $10 per $1,000 of real market value for other governments. Compression is calculated on a property-by-property basis, and can affect one neighbor and not another.
The issue won’t be settled by the time Sisters votes in March on a renewal of its school levy. But if the League’s proposal becomes law, Sisters could renew its school levy in the future and expect the full amount to be collected. The same would be true for the Jefferson County jail levy, which collected $222,100 less than voters authorized in 2012-13. Local voters would regain control of local levies.
This League proposal addresses just one small piece of the complexity of Oregon tax law, and we’d prefer a more comprehensive overhaul. However, the League says a wider revision isn’t politically possible in the short term, and this piece can make a difference for local communities. It’s a convincing argument.