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Clackamas board stalemates on Measure 97 resolution

Issue likely to return after 2-1 vote with two absent members.

Three Clackamas County commissioners stalemated last week on Measure 97, the proposed corporate tax increase on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot.

But a proposed resolution of opposition is likely to return when two commissioners absent from the Sept. 15 discussion — Paul Savas and Martha Schrader — return from a business trip to Washington, D.C.

Earlier this year, before Schrader was re-elected to her position in the May 17 primary and Savas finished third in a bid for board chairman, both stated their opposition to the then-pending ballot measure.

A dozen people testified on both sides before the discussion, which touched off a political exchange between Chairman John Ludlow and Commissioner Jim Bernard, who is challenging Ludlow’s re-election bid on Nov. 8.

Although Bernard has stated his opposition to Measure 97, he said the board as a whole should not do so on the county’s behalf. He said the most recent time it has done so was back in 2000, when the then three-member board opposed some proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot.

He said:

“Our responsibility as Clackamas County commissioners is to tend to the pressing business of Clackamas County, not to open up and entangle ourselves in statewide ballot measures and fighting between competitive political interests, especially when getting involved in a fight on either side could have a negative impact on the county’s ability to effectively forward its own agenda.”

But Ludlow, who ran second to Bernard in the May 17 primary, said Bernard himself moved to oppose Measure 97 at a recent meeting of the Clackamas County Business Alliance.

“Is it good enough to do it at the CCBA and not do it by a resolution by us?” Ludlow said. “I don’t think so. I think we have to take a stand — a stand I think is right, and our businesses say no to.”

Bernard said that while it was appropriate for the business alliance to take a stand, “I am saying this does not belong here.”

Bernard, owner of Bernard’s Garage in Milwaukie, is on the alliance board — and the four other commissioners are ex-officio board members.

Commissioner Tootie Smith, who also faces re-election, said she had no problem expressing her opposition to what she called the largest tax increase in Oregon history.

Measure 97 would raise the state minimum tax on businesses with at least $25 million annually in Oregon sales. Smith said such a tax would affect grocery stores and utilities, unlike several failed ballot measures for a retail sales tax that would exempt food and power bills.

“If we want a sales tax, can we just do it in a more honest way?” said Smith, who was a state representative from 2001 to 2005. “This (corporate tax) is going to be passed on to every one of you.”

Although the vote was 2-1 for the opposition resolution, it takes three votes for approval.

Ludlow said he would bring the resolution back when Savas and Schrader can participate, but he probably would not scheduled another round of public comment.

Elected officials can take stands on ballot measures, but neither they nor public employees can use public resources to promote or oppose them in campaigns.

Pros and cons

Unlike Washington County, where commissioners opposed Measure 97 on a 3-2 vote Aug. 23 without a public hearing, Clackamas County commissioners heard from eight witnesses opposed and four in favor preceding their own discussion.

Measure 97 opponents included officials from the Clackamas County Business Alliance, North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce and Northwest Grocery Association.

Ed Cranston of Cranston Machinery, which has been based in Oak Grove since 1923, said most of his business takes place outside Clackamas County.

“What we see is a horrendous cost increase as our suppliers will increase their costs and have to pass them on,” Cranston said.

“To compete in the export market with a large differential in the U.S. dollar is going to push us to the point of extinction – and by adding another tax on top, you are pushing us out.”

Les de Asis of Benchmade Knives, whose Oregon City plant is a short distance from the building where the county commissioners meet, said the proposed tax increase would be an added burden.

“As a businessman, I’m here to tell you it’s bad enough to make a living and do what we want to do,” he said.

But others, who say Measure 97 will generate an estimated $3 billion annually that is needed for public schools and state services, argued that the county board should take no stand.

“I believe it’s like ‘the sky is falling’ for businesses saying they are going to lose,” said Cindy Williams, a teacher at McLoughlin Elementary School and president of the Oregon City Education Association.

Joe Minson, a social studies teacher at Canby High School, also urged no stance.

Dawn Spahn has been a teacher for three years at Holcomb Elementary School in Oregon City, where she lost her initial job as a reading specialist and is on the verge of losing her job as a kindergarten teacher, even as the number of pupils per classroom grows.

“All of our behaviors are exploding because we do not have the support we need,” she said. “I am watching our schools fall apart and our demands becoming higher because we don’t have the funding we need.”

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