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Fate of corporate tax overshadows races for Senate, governor

A political analyst says that a ballot measure to raise corporate taxes — not races for governor or U.S. senator — will share the spotlight with the presidency in Oregon’s Nov. 8 election.

Pacific University’s Jim Moore says that whichever side sells its message best will prevail on the vote for Initiative Petition 28.

“For businesses, they are going to say it is a sales tax — and if that is a successful message, this is going down,” Moore said in June at the Washington County Public Affairs Forum.

“For unions, their plan is that we need to tax big out-of-state corporations so that they pay their fair share in Oregon and tax the wealthy for our programs. If that is the (successful) message, it will pass.”

The pending ballot measure would raise Oregon’s corporate minimum tax on larger businesses operating in Oregon, charging them 2.5 percent on sales exceeding $25 million, plus the $30,000 minimum tax. It would raise about $6 billion for every two-year state budget cycle.

Moore, who teaches politics and government and directs the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation, said recent Oregon history offers hope for both sides.

Voters have rejected retail sales taxes nine times between 1933 and 1993. Supporters never got more than about 30 percent of the vote.

However, voters upheld two measures in 2010 that balanced the state budget by raising income taxes on higher-income households and businesses, including an increased minimum tax.

“The first group out of the gate establishes what the conversation is about — and it’s up to the other group to say it’s not really about that, but about this,” Moore said.

Moore is writing a biography of Vic Atiyeh, who died in 2014, and was the most recent Republican governor of Oregon from 1979 to 1987.

Moore said it was Atiyeh who proposed a smaller but similar tax on business receipts to balance his proposed two-year budget in 1983, not long after Atiyeh’s re-election victory over Democrat Ted Kulongoski.

Majority Democrats in the state legislature never acted on Atiyeh’s proposal.

IP28 “will win or lose depending on how it is perceived by the electorate,” Moore said.


In contrast, Moore predicted that neither of the state races at the top of the Oregon ticket is likely to result in an upset — barring the unexpected in the presidential race.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who has held his seat for 20 years, faces Republican Mark Callahan, who has been a Democrat and a Pacific Green Party candidate. Callahan ran as a Republican for president in 2012 and lost a primary bid for the Senate seat held by Democrat Jeff Merkley in 2014.

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown is seeking a two-year term against Republican Bud Pierce, a doctor who self-funded his winning primary campaign against Allen Alley, a businessman and former state GOP chairman.

But Moore said Pierce is going to need a lot more money from other sources to do what has not been done in almost four decades — unseat a sitting governor, even though Brown is the first in 60 years to come to the office other than by direct election.

He said what could make a difference for governor — but not for senator — is the outcome of the presidential contest between the presumptive nominees, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

That said, Moore thinks a victory for Trump may be elusive.

“Trump has got to go to swing states and change the polls that have been pretty generic against any Republican nominee for the past year and a half,” Moore said.

“Right now, Democrats have an edge for the presidency. But we wait until after the conventions — and after Labor Day — to see what is the baseline as people wake up and pay attention to the race.”

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