Oregonians will be asked to vote this fall on a constitutional amendment that would prevent the Legislature from taxing the sale or distribution of food. It’s a no-nonsense approach to help hold food costs down in this state.
You’re likely to hear it is far more nefarious than that in the months ahead. Opponents of the measure are already casting it as an unprecedented major tax break for large corporations, even as they cry that it will unravel Oregon’s bottle deposit law (if only!). Don’t buy it.
The measure does not apply to taxes on alcoholic beverages, marijuana products or tobacco products. It does apply to “raw or processed” foods, both in groceries, and, presumably, restaurants.
Sponsors of what will be known as Measure 103 on the November ballot include large supermarket chains. That should come as no surprise.
The chief benefit is for people who buy food. And the benefit is not unprecedented. Many states that do have sales taxes do exclude food. Oregon does not have a sales tax.
It’s hard to see how it will undo Oregon’s outdated bottle deposit law, though it would be good if it did. Measure 103 includes language that clearly excludes taxes adopted, approved or enacted before Oct. 1, 2017. Deposits might be cut to their former 5 cents per container, but they’d hardly disappear.
The measure may not be perfect. Writing tax law by constitutional amendment can have unintended consequences. Fixing those problems can be both time consuming and difficult.
Yet when Oregonians choose to address their tax concerns at the ballot box, they do so for a simple reason. History has taught them that the Legislature is too often deaf to their concerns about a growing tax burden. In just the last couple of years, for example, they’ve seen lawmakers skirt the constitutionally required two-thirds majority vote on new taxes by persuading themselves that tax increases and measures that broaden a tax’s reach are, in fact, not new taxes at all.
Measure 103 will help keep food costs in check for all Oregonians, rich or poor.