Editorial: Lawmakers should ask voters about local option levies

Sisters taxpayers have been kind to their school district through the years, voting to increase their property taxes so the district will have more to spend.

Yet despite their generosity, the district is unable to raise all the money voters are willing to give.

The problem is compression, a phenomenon in Oregon law that says no property owner will pay more than $5 in school taxes on every $1,000 of real market value of property he owns. Sisters residents pay for operations not only for their school district, but also for the High Desert Education Service District and for Central Oregon Community College.

Throw in the school district’s $1.2 million extra-money local option tax and that $5 limit has been topped. To get back to it, the district may collect only part of what voters agreed upon for the optional tax, which, by law, is the first thing that must be cut. The result? The district will have to leave about $280,000 on the table this year, money that it could surely use.

Compression doesn’t apply only to property taxes for schools, either. Redmond residents have had the state’s allowed $10 property tax per $1,000 of real market value for general government taxes compressed because of the 911 service district’s local-option tax. And there are others.

There’s no quick legislative fix to the problem. It would take a constitutional amendment to set local option levies outside those limits, a move lawmakers have been reluctant to embrace.

They should.

Having a tax option they cannot exercise fully denies taxpayers the right to support their schools or any other taxing district as they see fit. In a state where local wishes about education are increasingly ignored, that’s no small loss.

It may be that the majority of Oregon voters are unwilling to give local taxpayers that right, but unless they’re asked, we’ll never know the answer. Lawmakers should ask the question.

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