Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has reached a deal with union and business officials to keep one controversial tax-related initiative off the state ballot in November. Meanwhile, a measure to overturn Oregon's so-called "sanctuary state" law could make the ballot.
With a Friday deadline looming for submitting initiatives for the fall election, union officials announced they would back off an initiative that would require large, publicly held corporations to reveal more about their operations in Oregon and how much they pay in state and local taxes.
In exchange, some major corporate officials have agreed to join labor officials in opposing two tax measures sought by other business interests. Those measures would exempt groceries from new taxes on sales and require a three-fifths legislative vote for bills raising revenue.
Brown has been trying to head off another pitched election battle over taxes between the state’s business community and the powerful public employee unions. In 2016, the two sides together spent about $45 million battling over a union-backed measure that sought a multi-billion-dollar increase in corporate taxes. Business won that round.
This time, Brown was claiming a victory.
“Today, labor and business leaders have come together to focus on shared goals in this election,” she said in a statement released by her re-election campaign. “Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working with both business and labor to come together around defeating initiative 31 and 37, two risky and poorly-written constitutional amendments.”
Brown didn’t get all she wanted. She tried to get sponsors of IP 31 – the measure calling for a supermajority for all tax and fee hikes — to also drop their initiative.
But that didn’t happen and IP 31 is now headed to the ballot. Elections Director Steve Trout said Thursday that the initiative signatures have been verified and it has enough to qualify for the ballot.
The grocery measure had qualified for the ballot more than two weeks ago.
Nike, the state’s largest home-grown business, appeared to play a major role in the negotiations. According to sources, the company had told the governor that the corporate transparency measure would put them at a disadvantage with rivals from other states and would hurt efforts for moderate elements of the business community to work with labor.
On Tuesday, the company revealed in a campaign-finance filing that it had contributed $100,000 to a newly formed political action committee called the Common Ground Fund.
Nike officials could not be reached for comment Thursday. But the committee is headed by Nike executive Julia Brim-Edwards and Portland developer John Russell, who often contributes to Democrats.
Russell said in a statement released by Brown’s campaign that the governor helped “business and labor leaders develop a new coalition that will focus us on the biggest challenge this fall,” defeating the two tax measures that will go on the ballot.
The corporate transparency measure was sponsored by top officials of two major public employee unions, the Oregon chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Local 503 of Service Employees International Union.
In a statement, Stacy Chamberlain, executive director of Oregon AFSCME, and Steve Demarest, president of Local 503, said they wanted to focus their campaign money on defeating the two conservative tax measures.
“We remain committed to corporate tax fairness,” the two said, “and we will continue to fight for fully funded schools and public services.”
The unions had argued that their corporate transparency measure was aimed at giving the public more information about how they should revamp the state tax code. But now, they are shifting focus to the other measures.
The grocery industry sponsored an initiative to protect themselves from the kind of gross-receipts tax that the unions unsuccessfully tried to get voters to approve in 2016. Industry officials say that kind of tax is unfair because it doesn’t take into account the low profit margins in the grocery business.
And the Oregon Association of Realtors paid most of the tab for putting the measure requiring a three-fifths vote on all revenue increases. Voters years ago approved a constitutional measure requiring a three-fifths vote on tax hikes, but a Supreme Court decision narrowed the scope of legislation requiring a super-majority vote.
The tax deal wasn’t the only news Thursday on the initiative front.
Supporters of a controversial initiative to repeal Oregon’s sanctuary law appeared closer to qualifying for the November ballot.
Oregonians For Immigration Reform turned in 105,000 signatures, according to the group’s president, Cynthia Kendoll. She said backers are also urging petitioners to bring additional signatures to the state Capitol on Friday morning to try to pad their margin.
The group needs 88,184 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot. That gives them a current margin of error of 19 percent, which might not be enough.
“I will feel good when we are approved,” Kendoll said. “I’m a worry-wart.”
The measure could attract national attention. President Donald Trump has railed against local and state sanctuary laws that limit how much local law enforcement can cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
In Oregon, critics said the measure will lead to more racial profiling and enmesh local police in controversial immigration enforcement activities.
“Getting rid of Oregon’s existing sanctuary laws could open the door for local police to become an arm of Trump’s deportation force,” said Andrea Williams, executive director of Causa, an immigrant rights group. She said Causa is assembling a “robust coalition” to oppose the measure if it gets on the ballot.