The battle over the merits of a proposed corporate sales tax measure on November’s ballot moved to the airwaves Monday, Sept. 12, as the Yes on 97 campaign unleashed its first radio ad.

The ad emerged one day before the No on 97 campaign was scheduled to debut its first radio slot.

Measure 97, advanced by union-backed Our Oregon, levies a 2.5 percent tax on certain corporations’ annual Oregon sales exceeding $25 million.

“Oregon has a numbers problem,” the Yes on 97 ad begins.

The ad cites federal figures showing the state has the nation’s fourth lowest high school graduation rate, 383,000 residents without health insurance, and one in 10 seniors living in poverty.

In the ad, the campaign blames the list of problems on Oregon’s low corporate tax rate. The campaign cites a study by Michigan-based Anderson Economic Group showing the state has the lowest "business tax burden" in the nation.

The international research and consulting firm in May ranked Oregon as having the lowest business tax burden in the nation. “Business tax burden” was defined as total state and local taxes a business paid as a share of pre-tax earnings and excluded sales taxes paid by consumers.

“They repeatedly claim ‘Oregon’s corporate taxes are lowest in the nation,’” said Pat McCormick, a spokesman for Defeat the Tax on Oregon Sales. “That’s false. Even the AEG study that proponents reference ranks Oregon 19th in corporate taxes. They misleadingly try to confuse total business taxes with corporate taxes.”

“General sales taxes account for about 20 percent of the average state’s taxation of businesses, and the absence of a general sales tax drops Oregon’s ranking in their methodology,” McCormick said of the AEG study.

The Legislative Revenue Office estimates that consumers will pay for at least half of the $3 billion annual tax increase under Measure 97 in the form of higher prices and slower job growth.

The Yes on 97 ad claims the tax measure “fixes” the problem of low corporate taxes. Less than 1 percent of Oregon businesses are affected, the ad says.

McCormick said that claim also is false.

“Every business – 100 percent – will be affected,” he said. “If they use electricity, have phones, buy insurance, buy office supplies, buy products or services affected by suppliers, they will feel the effects of Measure 97 in higher prices. The say otherwise is trying to pull the wool over voters’ eyes.”

Katherine Driessen, spokeswoman for Our Oregon, noted that the tax targets large corporations "overwhelmingly headquartered outside Oregon.

"In fact, Measure 97 protects Oregonians and small businesses," Driessen said. "It's clear that the 'no campaign' is just looking out for multibillion-dollar corporations, not Oregonians and small businesses."

The opposition group, Defeat the Tax on Oregon Sales, has raised nearly $9 million to try to squash the ballot measure. Proponents of the tax measure have raised more than $2 million, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

Voters can expect to see more advertisements for and against the measure in coming weeks. Opponents of the measure plan to launch their first television ad later this month.

They face a deficit of public support, according to polling on the measure. Two surveys in the past week indicate that 59-60 percent of registered voters favor the measure, though in one survey by icitizen, support eroded after supporters heard arguments about how the tax would work. Both surveys by Portland-based DHM Research and icitizen found that most voters think corporations should pay more taxes.

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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