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Businesspeople respond: set the table for us all to contribute ideas

When Governor Kate Brown attended the Portland Business Alliance breakfast forum last week, moderator Kerry Tymchuk asked for a show of hands: Who supports Measure 97?

Of the few hundred (mostly business people) in the audience, a spattered dozen raised a hand. The rest awkwardly chuckled.

PHOTO BY JAIME VALDEZ - Governor Kate Brown talks about her support for Measure 97 and other pressing issues for the state at a Portland Business Alliance Breakfast Forum at the Sentinel Hotel.

“I wrestled with this decision to support the Measure 97,” Gov. Brown said. “It truly was the most difficult decision I have ever made in my time in office, and frankly it was also a very difficult decision for me personally.”

It's no secret Gov. Brown supports Measure 97 while most of the business community does not, and she clearly outlined three reasons for her decision to support the measure: Oregon needs the revenue for early childhood and career path education, there are no other viable options on the table for her to choose from, and the measure ensures corporations pay their share of taxes alongside families.

“So, that’s why I chose to support ballot Measure 97, and don’t think this is an easy decision for anyone,” Gov. Brown said. “This is an issue that Oregon governors and Oregon representatives and commissioners have wrestled with for 25 years, 30 years. I know that most of you have hit your heads against the wall trying to come up with the solutions, and in the past five years we haven’t seen one.”

The Business Tribune reached out and asked members of the business community to respond to her. They said their priority is to defeat the measure because they want to be more involved in creating a better funding solution, collaborating alongside more stakeholders in the process.

Sandra McDonough, president and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance, opposes Measure 97 (as does the PBA). She says not enough people were involved in its creation because Measure 97 was written by nonprofit coalition Our Oregon and mainly funded by public unions.

“Our Oregon wrote the measure, unilaterally put it on the table, and did not ask for any input. They did not call anybody,” McDonough told the Business Tribune. “We’ve asked them several times to tell us one business that is actually impacted by this tax that you spoke to, and they can’t name one."

McDonough says it’s up to elected leaders like Governor Brown and legislators to create a safe space for people from every party to come and contribute ideas to solutions that work for everyone.

“The job of elected leadership is to set that table. That is why we elect them to their leadership positions. So, we have told the Governor to set the table," McDonough said. "We will be there prepared to help write the solution. That did not happen before. Now, we are in the terrible position of a costly and damaging proposal on the ballot and our No. 1 focus right now is to defeat that. Then, the day after the election, we will be at the table."

Gov. Brown said at the PBA breakfast that there may be a spending problem, not just a funding problem, and she is willing to have conversations to look at more options.

"I believe Oregonians are smart enough to figure it out," she said. "If it is in fact a straight-up sales tax, why are so many businesses spending so much money trying to defeat it?"

Debbie Kitchin, owner of Interworks, LLC, told the Business Tribune Measure 97 is a one-sided approach that can’t be fixed and just needs to be defeated first.

“It may be that we need more funding for schools and other needs, but first it’s important that we have a plan for how that money would be spent and right now the current measure doesn’t have a plan for how to get better effectiveness out of the dollars that we spend,” Kitchen said. “Priority one is to defeat this measure. I think there are better ways to raise revenue if that is needed. There are a number of options of different types of tax measures that you could have. In the past, we’ve focused on taxes and taxes on profits. We need to get all the options on the table, look at them and evaluate the impact.”

While Gov. Brown said at the PBA breakfast that she's supportive of a sales tax, she doesn't see that as a realistic option, citing a $1.35 billion deficit in the annual budget.

"I would like there to be other options, but there aren't," Gov. Brown said. "How do we make sure we have other resources on the table to meet key resources? It's not okay with me to cut off 400,000 Oregonians we just added to the plan."

Kitchin told the Business Tribune that legislators are responsible for being leaders in finding solutions, with input from all Oregonians.

“I don’t think a ballot measure is a good way to look at revenues. It needs to be leadership from the government and legislature and it should be through legislation that we address additional taxes,” Kitchin said. “It has to be the government and legislature that brings everyone together — businesses, laborers — around the table to work out something that would help fill this gap. Everybody has to be at the table to help figure this out.”

Pam Treece is the executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance, another group who has come out against Measure 97.

“What I support isn’t as important as the process to get to what everyone supports, and we haven’t done that,” Treece told the Business Tribune. “This is something that all of us as citizens should be concerned about: the fact that we’re allowing a ballot measure to determine our state policy. We need leadership at the state level and at the business level to come together with a better alternative.”

McDonough estimates Measure 97 would provide a 30 percent increase in revenue to deal with a 7 percent deficit, “which seems not right and too costly for Oregonians.”

“We have told the Governor that the day after the election, if she wants to bring people around the table to come up with a solution that we can all support, we will be there, because we don’t think it’s right that any one interest group should unilaterally put a plan on the table and say, take it or leave it, which is what the proponents of Measure 97 have done," McDonough said. "We’re saying bring people to the table, that’s the way we do things in Oregon.”

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