Chamber forum offers insight on ballot measures

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By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Measures affecting Oregon’s economy and business community were the star of the show at a KeizerVotes forum held by the Keizer Chamber of Commerce last week at lunchtime.

The chamber took on Measures 79, 82, 84 and 85 – all of which could potentially affect members. Representatives for and against all measure were invited by the chamber to speak for four minutes on their topic.

Measure 79: Amends the Oregon Constitution to ban state and local jurisdictions from passing real estate transfer taxes and fees except for those in place on December 31, 2009

Scott Moore of Defend Oregon said the act would add constitutionally protected tax favoritism to one industry and that it addresses a boogeyman who simply does not exist. He said money is coming from outside the state to pass the measure even though state law prohibits local governments from passing such taxes. The state is allowed to, but Moore said industry lobbyists would likely be able to stop it.

“We think it’s important for local governments to make decisions about how to fund their own local priorities,” he added.

Paul Rainey of Protect Oregon Homes admitted his measure was proactive rather than anticipating a looming wave of new taxes, but said the tax was “unfair” and could affect homes under foreclosure. He added that the City of Portland had at least looked at the issue, if not holding a vote.

“What this does is takes a hidden sales and transfer tax off the table,” Rainey said.

Measure 82: Amends state constitution to allow privately-owned casinos, designating percentage of revenues to a dedicated state fund. Companion Measure 83 must pass to authorize The Grange casino in Wood Village. (Editor’s note: The primary group supporting the measures has opted not to continue its campaign, but the measure is still on the ballot.)

A scheduled opponent from the Still A Bad Idea Committee did not show up, but attendees did get to hear an argument for why statewide voters should approve the measure.

Rick Metzger of Yes on 82 and 83 said that private investors from Canada would still pay taxes as an Oregon corporation and would pay in 25 percent of gross revenues, much of which would funnel through the Oregon Lottery to schools. It would also prohibit casinos within a 60 mile radius of a current one, which means Salem-Keizer is effectively out of the running for a new, privately-owned casino.

He also said the project would create 3,000 construction jobs and 2,000 casino jobs with an average wage of $35,000.

“Currently government has an entire monopoly on gaming in Oregon – tribal government and state government,” he said.

Measure 84: Phases out inheritance tax

Moore of Defend Oregon stepped up to oppose this measure, saying it’s mostly a tax cut for the top 2 percent of Oregon households, and noted the exemption of up to $1 million in assets for a single person and $2 million for couples. He added that family farms are subject to a tax credit that effectively shields the first $7.5 million of value from state estate tax.

Moore said it would cost the state’s general fund $256 million every budget cycle once fully implemented – costing cash-strapped schools even more money.

“Imagine what the situation would be like if we were to take hundreds of millions further away from the things we all care about,” he said.

Kevin Mannix said he’s been told of “terror” from families owning small businesses of how the estate tax could affect them, noting that many states have moved to eliminate the tax.

He also said the current exemption levels could change, or more families could become eligible.

“It’s fair market value – it includes the land, the building, the equipment, the inventory, it includes the equity,” he said. “Politicians who are going to want money are willing to look at different sources – it could be your firearms collection, it could be your mother’s jewelry.”

Mannix added that state revenues would be reduced about $25 million in the first year, but acknowledged that figure would grow once the measure is fully implemented.

Measure 85: Allocates corporate kicker refunds to the state general fund for additional K-12 education funding

Moore once again spoke, this time in favor of Measure 85. He said the kicker – which sends funds back to taxpayers and companies when revenue exceeds projections by at least two percent. This measure would not affect private citizens, who would still receive kicker checks in such a scenario.

He said it sends money to companies precisely at the time when they need it least, and that the refund is “reckless.”

“The impact (of the recession) has been teacher layoffs, crowded classrooms, a reduction in the basic educational opportunities that, frankly, we all took for granted when we were in school,” Moore said.

Steve Buckstein, founder and senior policy analyst with the Cascade Policy Institute, said the measure provides no guarantee of more money for schools – just more general fund revenue.

“Just like we do today, if there’s an extra dollar in the general fund you have a feeding frenzy,” Buckstein said. He added that kicker refunds are not a steady source of income, and ending them could result in higher prices for consumers.

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