Ban on food taxes would be a first
A corporate-funded ballot measure that would block junk-food and sugary-drink taxes and freeze the state's corporate minimum tax for certain companies qualified for the Nov. 6 ballot this week.
What will be identified as Measure 103 would amend the Oregon Constitution and set a national precedent by barring all taxes on the sale or distribution of groceries.
Large grocery chains — Kroger, Albertsons, Safeway and Costco — and others have contributed about $2.5 million to the political action committee attempting to make the constitutional change.
The ballot measure would prevent implementation of a Multnomah County tax on sodas and other sugary drinks. It could even repeal the state's bottle deposit fee, which is meant to encourage recycling of spent beverage containers and other taxes, according to a legal analysis conducted by Portland law firm Stolle Berne for Our Oregon.
Other taxes that could be repealed under the constitutional amendment include the fuel tax, which pays for roads, local restaurant taxes and portions of a hospital provider tax voters approved in January to maintain the state's Medicaid program.
Proponents have cast the measure as a way to prevent additional cost to low-income families and seniors on a limited budget.
Dan Floyd, a spokesman for the anti-tax campaign, defended the measure.
"'Yes! Keep Our Groceries Tax Free!' does not repeal taxes. It simply ensures that our groceries can never be taxed," he said. "Most importantly, the initiative only applies to establishments that are inspected by the Oregon Department of Agriculture - Food Safety Division. That includes grocery stores, convenience stores, food banks, food pantries, farmers markets, and farm stands."
Mary King, professor of economics emerita at Portland State University, said the ballot measure is "a massive, unprecedented carve-out for some of the biggest retailers in the world that will apply to far more than just the food they sell."
Backers of the proposal have acknowledged that the measure still allows taxes on other basic necessities such as diapers, medicine and feminine hygiene products, yet restaurant food would not be taxed. Proponents argue restaurant food could still be taxed.
Karen Nettler, board chair of the Oregon Coalition of Christian Voices, said the measure is fueled by corporate greed and "exploits the daily anxieties of vulnerable families when the truth is that this measure would help some of the world's wealthiest CEOs."