Tax proposal causes titanic tussle

SALEM — A campaign is being bitterly fought, with vast sums spent by both sides on TV and other ads, even more money than for the governor's race.

The titanic tussle is over a proposed tax that is aimed at the companies making the most sales in the state, but opponents — including major corporations — say every Oregonian will be affected.

Both sides have arrayed armies of experts who say the tax on companies' sales of more than $25 million will trigger a rise in prices, or that such a scenario is bogus. The conclusions of the assessments, broadcast on TV and blanketing social media, depend on whether the well-heeled campaigns are for or against Measure 97.

While it might be impossible to predict if companies will raise prices if the measure passes, this much is certain: Oregonians abhor sales taxes. Oregon is one of only five states in America that doesn't have them. Oregonians have rejected sales tax proposals nine times in nearly 90 years.

"Backers claim the $6 billion from Measure 97 will all come from big, out-of-state corporations. Don't let them fool you. Measure 97 is a hidden sales tax," winery owners Rob and Jolee Wallace wrote in opposition. They stressed that their company doesn't have even close to $25 million in sales, but they asserted that the tax "impacts all small businesses and takes more money out of the pockets of every Oregon family."

Consumers would not be directly taxed by the measure, which is expected to increase state revenue by $3 billion per year, not $6 billion. Many businesses that have narrow profit margins feel threatened because sales would be taxed, not profits. The minimum tax for companies with more than $25 million in sales in Oregon would be 2.5 percent of the excess over $25 million, plus $30,001.

The Legislative Revenue Office says the tax would wind up costing each Oregonian at least $600 a year.

Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said she supports the measure because the state budget is facing a $1.3 billion deficit, and the money is needed to help fund education, health care and senior services.

"It's time corporations pay their fair share," Brown said in a debate last month. Republican challenger Bud Pierce said the measure would increase the cost of living for every Oregonian and that instead state government should learn to live within its means.

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