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Clackamas board opposes Measure 97

Second vote is 4-0, Bernard absent; first try stalled when he abstained and two said yes.

Clackamas County commissioners, one week after it fell short by a single vote, formally opposed the corporate tax increase proposed in Measure 97 on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Four of the five commissioners voted Sept. 22 for the resolution in opposition, which was similar to one that Washington County commissioners passed Aug. 23 on a 3-2 vote.

Chairman John Ludlow and Commissioner Tootie Smith were joined by Commissioners Paul Savas and Martha Schrader, who were on county business in Washington, D.C., when Ludlow first presented the opposition resolution on Sept. 15.

Commissioner Jim Bernard was absent on the Sept. 22 vote. His abstention on the earlier vote blocked passage, which required three votes.

Although Bernard has expressed personal opposition to Measure 97, he said on Sept. 15 that the county board should not take an official stand on most ballot measures.

Elected officials under Oregon law can take stands on ballot measures, but neither they nor public employees can use public resources to promote their passage.

Measure 97 is sponsored by public employee unions and would raise a projected $3 billion annually for the state budget. The measure would raise the minimum tax on businesses exceeding $25 million annually in Oregon sales.

Savas, who owns an auto repair business, said the key was that the tax would apply to sales and not profit.

“This is a sales tax and it will affect households,” he said. “It will make people homeless… To just put one more burden on a household is untenable.”

Schrader, a former Democratic state senator, said her support of the opposition resolution was likely to dismay some of her political allies.

“I really feel that governance by initiative is a really bad way to go because you do not have all the stakeholders at the table,” she said. “What happens is that you start to have — and I am going to be a little outrageous for me today — ‘political hacks’ who frame a message that really does not get to the root of what the consequences would be.”

She said she lost a job as a school librarian after Oregon voters approved the sweeping 1990 measure that slashed property taxes.

She said measure advocates appear to be counting on a public backlash to business practices, such as the recent federal fining of Wells Fargo for opening fake bank accounts and the 2008 collapse of financial markets in the aftermath of the housing crash.

“I do not support egregious corporate behavior, but I believe it is wrong of us to tag other businesses. This is not just about larger out-of-state corporations that will be affected. That message is being lost.

“My plea to the business community is that you need to be getting the message out, because you are getting drowned by bad actors that you do not have any control over.”

Smith restated her argument that the measure’s passage would boost the per-capita tax burden by at least $600 annually, according to a report by the Legislature’s tax analysts, and it would affect a wide range of goods and services including groceries.

“What a difference a week makes,” Ludlow said.

Schrader chided Ludlow for his reference to Bernard, who is challenging Ludlow’s bid for re-election as chairman Nov. 8. Schrader won her own re-election race in the May 17 primary.

But Ludlow said Measure 97 is legislation being considered by voters, just like the bills considered by lawmakers during their sessions.

“Every year when those decisions are being made, we have the option of giving them our opinion — and we do on a lot of things,” Ludlow said. “We try to influence them, and that is what we are doing here.”

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