By Taylor W. Anderson

The Bulletin

SALEM — Supporters of a proposed tax on big businesses in Oregon that would bring in around $3 billion annually got another backing over the weekend when a slim majority of a panel that reviewed Ballot Measure 97 said it supports the measure.

Eleven of 20 members on the Citizens’ Initiative Review Commission, a group that intends to reflect the voting public of Oregon, decided after hearing from both sides of the measure that they support raising the tax on businesses with over $25 million in annual sales.

The narrow vote is the latest in a string of victories for supporters by groups that have studied the measure and will weigh in before Election Day. The review commission’s input is also notable because its statements for and against the measure will appear in the pamphlets that are sent to every Oregon voter.

Supporters on the panel cited an anticipated $1.35 billion budget shortfall for the 2017-19 budget as a reason they support the proposal, which will appear on the ballot Nov. 8.

“We are currently in a crisis of underfunded public education, health care, and senior services,” the panelists in favor wrote. “The passage of Measure 97 would quickly fix this.”

The Legislature passed a bill creating the review panel in 2011 to provide the perspectives of informed voters ahead of votes on ballot initiatives.

Opponents on the panel focused on the findings by the nonpartisan Legislative Revenue Office, which reports to all legislators on the effects of new or proposed laws on the state’s bottom line.

“A nonpartisan study by the Legislative Revenue Office says M97’s tax could increase costs consumers pay for essential services, costing a typical family $600 more per year,” the nine panelists who oppose the measure wrote.

The panel also noted lawmakers are free to spend the extra $6 billion per two-year budget cycle in any way they pleased, which opponents of Measure 97 say amounts to a “blank check” to Salem.

“We appreciate the panelists who concluded Measure 97 would be a costly and damaging blank check to politicians with no plan and no accountability for how the windfall of new money would be spent,” Rebecca Tweed, the opposition’s campaign coordinator, said in a statement following the vote.

The support of the majority of the panel comes after the majority of a City Club of Portland panel found the measure “is imperfect, but the benefits of added revenue that the Legislature could invest in education, health care and social services outweigh any potential detriments.”

The minority on that panel wrote that they agreed Oregon needs more revenue but felt a tax proposal should be more narrowly tailored.

“The tax fails to accommodate the complexity of Oregon’s economy and represents a poorly conceived tax measure that does not represent a suitable solution to the state’s revenue shortage,” the minority wrote in the report.

Measure 97, formerly Initiative Petition 28, is being pushed by the union-backed Our Oregon. Supporters sent out a statement applauding the panel’s findings shortly after the vote.

“Oregonians know that we need to boost our graduation rates, make health care more affordable, and allow seniors to retire with dignity by requiring large and out-of-state corporations to pay their fair share,” said Otto Schell, legislative director for the Oregon PTA. “Measure 97 is the best solution to decades of disinvestment.”

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,

tanderson@bendbulletin.com

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