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With Measure 103, corporations aim to steal local control

Commentary
October 22, 2018By Juan Carlos Ordóñez

Of the many threats that Measure 103 poses, one has received too little attention: Measure 103 takes control away from communities on matters of public finance and community health.

Out-of-state money is flowing into Oregon with the aim of ramming into our Constitution a special tax exemption for the grocery industry and its biggest corporations. And as The Oregonian recently reported, Big Soda is also investing heavily in this measure in an effort to procure a constitutional tax exemption for Coke, Pepsi, and the rest.

The damage from Measure 103 — a broad, loosely-drafted measure on state fiscal policy — would be far-reaching. It would make it more difficult to enact the kind of corporate tax changes necessary to properly fund schools and public services that benefit all Oregonians.

But beyond the damage at the state level, Measure 103 would restrict the ability of communities across Oregon to manage their affairs, because its prohibitions apply to local jurisdictions. In effect, the measure is a move by out-of-state corporations to strip away local control in several crucial ways.

First, Measure 103 would prevent Oregon communities from choosing to follow the examples of Ashland and Yachats when it comes to figuring out how to pay for important public services. Some years ago, the residents of these communities voted to put a tax on restaurant meals. Such a tax is one of the few ways local communities can capture revenue from out-of-state tourists. It is an imminently reasonable fiscal option, one that ought to be decided at the local level. But the corporate-backed Measure 103 would establish a constitutional prohibition against levying a tax on prepared foods, taking this option away from other Oregon communities.

The measure would also take away local control on matters of community health by preventing Oregon communities from deciding whether a tax on sugary beverages is a reasonable option. “Mounting evidence indicates that consumption of high-sugar drinks has increased sharply in recent years and is likely to have contributed markedly to increased obesity, which results in higher health costs and increased morbidity,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports. Again, it is reasonable for communities to consider a tax on sugary beverages. Some may think that’s a good move; others may not. But as part of a national strategy, Big Soda is trying to squelch local control on this important issue of community autonomy and health.

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Showing the cynicism underlying their campaign, the proponents of Measure 103 argue that the measure bars taxes on sugary beverages because “it’s not for us to tell you what your basic needs are.” And yet the measure expressly excludes from its reach taxes on alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana — maintaining the freedom of communities to tax those items. In so doing, the proponents of Measure 103 concede that tax policy is a legitimate way for communities regulate items that impact the health of residents.

Finally, at a time when serious questions are being raised as to the health risks associated with e-cigarettes, Measure 103 appears to take away the ability of local governments to tax these potentially harmful products. While Measure 103 leaves in place the ability to tax tobacco, it’s otherwise broad language seems to prohibit state or local taxes on e-cigarettes. If Measure 103 passes, the e-cigarette industry can be counted on to make such a case in court, should any Oregon jurisdiction try taxing e-cigarettes.

With Measure 103, out-of-state corporate and special interests are coming into Oregon to tell our communities what they can and can’t do on matters of finance and health. That’s wrong.

A “NO” vote on Measure 103 protects local control from the clutches of powerful out-of-state entities and keeps it where it properly belongs — with the people of Oregon.

Posted in Taxes.

More about: corporate taxes, Measure 103