While neither side can claim complete victory, supporters of a vote to overturn the 2017 Legislature’s multifaceted tax on health care clearly came out on top this week.
The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum must rewrite sections of the title and explanations of the Stop Health Care Taxes referendum, Ballot Measure 101. That was a win for state Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, and other supporters of the measure.
House Bill 2391, approved by the 2017 Legislature in late June, is a mishmash of taxes and fees aimed at shoring up the Oregon Health Plan, which provides Medicaid coverage to more than a quarter of the residents of this state. It includes new taxes on the Public Employees Benefit Board, private insurers, some hospitals and managed care organizations, among others. But other insurers don’t have to pay. Some large corporations and insurance companies are excluded.
As written, the law would generate $550 million through the 2018 fiscal year to keep OHP whole. Measure 101, meanwhile, would trim taxes expected to generate $330 million of the larger amount.
It was clear before the bill became law that it would be challenged, and Democrats, who control the Legislature, did everything they could to make the effort unsuccessful. They seized for themselves the right to create the ballot title and explanations that would go with it.
What they created was designed to confuse voters rather than give them accurate information.
They were too clever by half, apparently.
The ballot title they created is, in the court’s opinion, difficult to read and misleading. Its use of the term “currently budgeted” money implies the taxes are already in place, and, of course, they’re not. The title, as well as the explanations of the result of “yes” and “no” votes on the measure, must be rewritten, the court ruled.
The court did say the use of the term “assessment” rather than the simpler, more easily understood “tax” could stand. That may make persuading voters to support Measure 101 a bit more difficult. Oregonians are not as easily misled as the Legislature’s Democrats seem to think we are.