Measure 97 is just a Trojan horse for bigger government

biggovernment

The cat’s out of the bag.

Now we know what the Democrats and their union allies want with Measure 97.

It’s not the measure as written, with its deceptive promises of more money for education, healthcare and senior services. It’s $6 billion more out of taxpayer’s pockets each biennium that the Democrats can use to grow government, cover their disastrous PERS decisions over the years, reward their friends and punish their enemies.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland), when endorsing the measure in late 2015, said it would eliminate much of the constant need to choose between funding critical budget concerns each legislative session. “If that passes, we’ll have a lot of money to pay for stuff,” Greenlick said.

Stuff, indeed.

Oregonians who support Measure 97 because they believe Democrats’ claims that the revenue would be committed to education, healthcare and senior services are going to be mighty disillusioned if the Measure passes because, the fact is, the Legislature will be able to do just about anything it pleases with the resulting revenue.

On Aug. 1, 2016, the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Counsel confirmed this when it released an opinion. “Section 3 would not bind a future legislature in its spending decisions,” wrote Chief Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson in the opinion. “If Measure 97 becomes law, the Legislative Assembly may appropriate revenues generated by the measure in any way it chooses.”

It turns out that the Democrat-controlled Legislature could even change how the revenue is raised. Some people probably support Measure 97 now because they want to “put it to big business.” But there’s nothing to stop the Democrat-controlled Legislature from changing the entire tax formula, so long as it doesn’t result in more tax revenue, according to the Oct. 18 Portland Tribune. Only a simple majority of the Legislature would be required to approve changes in the formula, or anything else.

Sen. Mark Haas, D-Beaverton, Chairman of the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee, told the Tribune the Legislature can expect “a cavalcade of 10,000 lobbyists from every industry with valid stories about why their rates should be lower.”

And every one of those lobbyists will be expected to back up their pleas with campaign contributions, further exacerbating the already excessive role of money in Oregon politics.

A senior Democratic Legislator once defended Measure 97 as the best solution because there was no other option. Clearly, even the Democrats now believe that’s not the case.

City Club of Portland: wrong on Measure 97

tax-increaseAppalling! What else can you say?

Members of the City Club of Portland voted Tuesday to support Measure 97, which proposes imposing burdensome gross receipts taxes on Oregon businesses that could total $6.1 billion in the 2017-19 biennium.

It’s hard to believe that such a distinguished civic group could support such a flawed scheme.

Oregon’s General Fund expenses are expected to grow by about 14 percent, or $2.7 billion, in the 2017-2019 biennium. The budget anticipates only about half that will be covered by new revenue, translating to a projected $1.35 billion shortfall.

Given such things as public employee pay increases, higher Medicaid expenses, and pension rate increases for state government and school district employees covered by PERS, some additional revenue may be justified. But not $6.1 billion. That’s highway robbery.

And collecting the additional revenue through an odious gross receipts tax, which ignores a business’s profitability, or lack thereof, is irresponsible. How well-educated City Club members, many of whom presumably work in the private sector, could endorse such a tax is inexplicable.

Also damning is the uneven applicability of Measure 97’s proposed taxes. Taxation of just C Corporations would create a vastly uneven playing field for Oregon businesses.

As the minority noted in the City Club’s committee report, “Many large businesses are LLCs and S corps, and they often compete with C corps in similar sectors. For example, Fred Meyer (Kroger) and Safeway grocery store chains are C corps and would pay the tax. New Seasons Market, a B corporation,47 and Albertson’s, a limited liability corporation (LLC),48 would not pay it. “

The flaws in the City Club’s arguments in favor of Measure 97 are evident right off the bat.

The City Club committee charged with determining the merit of Measure 97 said it “…presents a long-awaited opportunity to assure adequate investment in the health, education and the well-being of Oregonians.”

Nonsense!

The fact is there is absolutely no guarantee the legislature will apply Measure 97 revenue to early childhood through grade 12 public education, healthcare and services for senior citizens, in the coming years as the measure states.

If Measure 97 is approved by voters, the Legislature can appropriate its revenues “in any way it chooses,” Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson said in an Aug. 1 letter to Rep. John Davis, R-Wilsonville, a member of the House Committee on Revenue. Not only are Legislators “not bound by the spending requirements” of Measure 97, they can “simply ignore” them,” Johnson added.

What is most likely is that over time Measure 97 revenue would be spread around like honey in response to pressure from self-serving special interests with access to, and influence on, decision-makers.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) said when endorsing the measure, “If that passes, we’ll have a lot of money to pay for stuff.” The hundreds of groups that spend millions annually lobbying the legislature will have plenty of ideas on what “stuff” to spend the money on.

There’s also a high likelihood that some of those lobbyists will seek exemptions from all or part of the tax, just as Nike cut a deal with former Gov. John Kitzhaber and the legislature in 2012 to protect it from changes in the way the state calculates the company’s state income taxes.

Gov. Brown has already said she’d favor some “technical adjustments” if Measure 97 passes, including:

  • Allowing businesses to subtract a portion of their Oregon payroll from their corporate tax bill.
  • Prohibiting businesses from changing their corporate status “for the primary purpose” of evading the new gross receipts tax. (As written, the measure would exempt “benefit corporations” from the new tax)
  • Helping out software companies in Oregon by classifying sales of their services based on the location of the purchaser, rather than the location of the company selling the service.

The majority of the City Club committee that recommended a “yes” vote on Measure 97 also argued that “… the potential benefit of adequately funded state services outweighed any of the tax’s potential detrimental effects and that the consequences of prolonging the state’s revenue shortage where (sic) too great.”

Outweighed “any of the potential detrimental effects”? In other words, satisfying the state’s greed with $6.1 billion in additional revenue per biennium is more important that an expected dampening of income, job and population growth. Give me a break.

Finally, in endorsing Measure 97, the City Club is giving an easy out to liberal Democrats who want to avoid tackling difficult spending issues.

For example, as the minority pointed out, the unfunded PERS liability is $21-$22 billion. If nothing is done to deal with the creeping cost of PERS, even the Measure 97 windfall won’t be enough to avoid a funding crisis.

It’s not as though Oregon’s budget problems snuck up on the Democrat-controlled Legislature, leaving it no choice but to abdicate its responsibilities and leave it to a poorly crafted union-inspired ballot measure to fix things.

It’s been abundantly clear for a long time that trouble was coming. Where was the grit to fix things right?

 

Lies, damn lies and statistics: SEIU’s campaign for Measure 97

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“Those who lie, twist life so that it looks tasty to the lazy, brilliant to the ignorant, and powerful to the weak,” said José N. Harris, an American author.

Based on pro-Measure 97 arguments being put out there by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the union knows all about twisting life.

A flyer just mailed to Oregon households by SEIU says 0.25% of Oregon’s 400,000 businesses would pay more under measure 97. Not so fast.

An analysis by the Oregon Legislative Revenue Office on the potential impacts of Measure 97 (when it was still referred to as Initiative Petition 28) made clear that the actual number of businesses that will pay the new taxes is unknown and trying to pin down an exact number is “particularly risky”. That’s because it’s not known how many businesses will take steps to reduce or eliminate the increased tax triggered by the measure.

Potential tax avoidance strategies, according to the Legislative Revenue Office, include:

o Shifting from a C-Corporation to an S-Corporation or non-corporation status.

o Spinning off subsidiaries into separate businesses to reduce Oregon sales below $25 million on the combined state corporate tax return.

o Using mergers and acquisitions or other methods to adjust where the plurality of services are performed under the cost of performance apportionment methodology.

o Vertically integrating with intermediate suppliers in order to reduce taxable transactions.

o Converting to a benefit company, which would not be subject to the new tax.

The risk of setting a firm number for tax revenue under Measure 97 is heightened further by the fact the direct effect of the measure would be “…so heavily concentrated on a relatively few large corporations, thereby giving them a powerful incentive to develop tax planning strategies,” the Revenue Office concluded.

To the extent businesses do take steps to minimize or avoid the new tax, the predicted revenue may not flow into the state’s coffers, forcing more tough choices.

The SEIU is also guilty of peddling dishonest information when it says in its flyer” “Fact: funding can only be spent to improve education, health care and senior services.” SEIU knows full well that Measure 97 would not limit how the resulting tax revenue could be spent by the legislature.

Measure 97’s spending requirements are meaningless Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson said in an Aug. 1 letter to Rep. John Davis, R-Wilsonville, a member of the House Committee on Revenue.

If Measure 97 is approved by voters, the Legislature can appropriate its revenues “in any way it chooses,” Johnson said. Not only are Legislators “not bound by the spending requirements” of Measure 97, they can “simply ignore” them,” Johnson added.

And even if Gov. Kate Brown has said, “…I will make sure the funds the measure yields go ­toward schools, health care and seniors, as the voters expect,” she is not bound to that commitment, nor are future governors or legislators.

In its purposeful deceit, the SEIU is revealing its true opinion of Oregonians. As John-Paul Sartre said, “the worst part about being lied to is knowing you weren’t worth the truth.”