Untangling Measure 104

We all love and want clean, pollution-free air and water. In the past few years, Oregonians have seen toxic emissions from Bullseye Glass near a school in Portland and toxic algae bloom in Salem’s drinking water. We need our state to be able to respond to these emerging challenges.

Hundreds of programs statewide that protect our favorite outdoor activities and our basic necessities, like air and water, rely on taxes and fees for those protections. But there’s a sneaky ballot measure on Tuesday’s election that threatens to do enormous harm to the Oregon Constitution, and proponents of Measure 104 have published misleading information in attempt to protect special interests that don’t put public health first.

If you haven’t taken the time to read the measure, good luck. It’s just confusing.

Here’s what you need to know: Oregon’s Constitution currently states that a three-fifths vote by Oregon legislators is necessary to pass bills “for raising revenue,” which is defined as a tax. Measure 104 would add and specify that supermajority votes are also needed for fee increases as well as modifications, reductions, or even eliminations of existing tax exemptions or breaks.

“If passed, Measure 104 would allow a minority of Oregon’s elected officials to hold tax reforms (like eliminating loopholes) hostage to exorbitant demands,” said Professor of Law Melissa Powers at Lewis and Clark Law School. “It would also give unprecedented breadth to Oregon’s existing supermajority requirements, making it harder for lawmakers to protect public health and the environment. Oregonians should reject this extreme ballot initiative.”

If passed, Measure 104 would also disproportionately benefit the wealthy. This is because many existing Oregon tax breaks already benefit high-income individuals and businesses.

Willamette Week’s Nigel Jaquiss writes that the measure “would protect 367 exemptions, loopholes and tax breaks that collectively cost the state more than $12 billion a year—more than the entire sum of personal income taxes the state collects annually.” It basically makes it easier for industry lobbyists to keep these carve outs, his story concludes.

Measure 104 will make it harder for legislatures to rescind those tax breaks, no matter how regressive they may be, making it harder to fund education and a host of other vital services. If this measure had been in place earlier this year, Oregon could have faced $1 billion in cuts to services like public schools and Medicaid, which means hundreds of thousands of people would have lost their healthcare.

Unfortunately, industry proponents of Measure 104 are also spreading misinformation.  They have alluded that the measure would cover a cap-and-invest, a program that would reign in harmful climate pollution. Cap-and-invest works by establishes an emissions trading market where large emitters must hold “allowances” to cover their pollution.

“Measure 104 shouldn’t apply to cap-and-invest, a novel mechanism to cap and reduce climate pollution in the state,” Ms. Powers concludes. “Large emitters acquire permits in three ways:

  1. at auction,
  2. through free allocation, or
  3. by trading with other parties.

None of these mechanisms represent a tax or fee. Because allowances are a tradable asset, the California Supreme Court recently ruled the system is neither a tax nor a fee, but rather the conveyance of something of value. Proponents of Measure 104 have misstated that this program is a ‘tax,’ misleading voters.”

Measure 104 would do tremendous damage to the state’s ability to protect clean air and water. It would create legislative gridlock. And it could make it much harder to correct wasteful tax exemptions.

Vote no on Measure 104 because it is irresponsible policy and it could do damage to the state and our communities.

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