Former Oregon State Lawmaker Seeks Big Tax, Spending Changes

Sep 13, 2017
Originally published on September 14, 2017 10:20 am

Two proposed ballot measures unveiled by former state Rep. John Davis could have a big impact on taxes and spending in Oregon.

The Wilsonville Republican earlier this year put together a group that advertised against legislative tax increases. Now, he's hoping to go to the ballot next year with a pair of proposed constitutional amendments.

One would limit spending increases by state and local governments to the growth in population and inflation.  Any revenue above that would then have to be applied toward paying down the $24 billion unfunded liabilities in the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System. The spending limit would not apply to school districts.

The other measure would tighten the existing requirement that a three-fifths vote of the Legislature is required to raise taxes. A court decision last year opened the door to only requiring a majority vote on measures that produce more revenue but don't raise rates. Davis' measure would also require a three-fifths vote on fee increases.

Davis said he wanted to find a direct way to lower the PERS debt, which he called a "millstone around the neck of every single public employer." 

And in the other measure, he said he wanted to preserve the intent of voters, who in 1996 approved a constitutional amendment requiring a three-fifths majority for tax increases.

It is unclear what kind of support Davis has for the two measures, which he said were developed in conversations with several supporters and business groups. He declined to identify who was backing the measures, saying that would become clear over the next several months as financial disclosures are filed.

"The coalition is prepared to go the distance on each of these," Davis said, explaining that he is the spokesman for the measures but that they were filed by others.  The chief sponsors for the pension measure are Juanita Lint, a Forest Grove Republican who unsuccessfully ran for the state House last year, and Michael Cosgrove of John Day.  The tax measure was filed by Alan Mehrwein of West Linn and Art Kegler of Boardman, who both listed themselves as Realtors in donations they made this year to the Oregon Realtors Political Action Committee.

He said a crucial step will be seeing what kind of ballot title supporters obtain and whether it will still be worthwhile to go forward. The wording of a measure on the ballot is regarded as important to its chances of success.

Davis' measures came under immediate fire from Our Oregon, the labor-backed coalition that has sought business tax increases to help increase funding for schools and other services.

Katherine Driessen, a spokeswoman for Our Oregon, said in a statement that these measures "appear to come from the fringe wing of the business community and they repeat a familiar refrain: Big business will never pay their fair share in taxes and will instead find a convenient scapegoat whenever they are asked to do so."

This story has been updated.

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