For the People

A proposed ballot measure would give everyday Oregonians more money

When Oregonians file their state income taxes this year, many of those getting tax refunds will see a larger sum than usual because of the Oregon “kicker” rebate, which happens when the state collects more revenue than it needs. But two creators of a potential November ballot measure want Oregonians to receive money from the state every year through increased taxes on corporations. 

The Oregon People’s Rebate is sort of a revival of Measure 97, a 2016 ballot measure that proposed taxing corporations. By increasing taxes on corporations that make more than $25 million, the proposed ballot measure would direct that money to residents, resulting in about $750 per person. 

The organizers behind the measure are still collecting signatures, but they say if it passes, it would be a positive gain for everyday Oregonians. The potential ballot measure could face a similar reaction from corporations that Measure 97 saw, but this time the organizers say voters will prefer seeing the money go directly to them rather than the Oregon Legislature. 

“The Oregon People’s Rebate invests in Oregonians by uplifting everyone by starting the process of corporations starting to pay their fair share and putting money directly into hands of Oregonians who know how to spend it the best,” says petitioner Anthony Johnson. “They know what their family needs, whether it’s help paying rent, groceries, education costs or child care costs.” Johnson was the chief petitioner of measures 91 and 110, legalizing cannabis and decriminalizing small amounts of illicit drugs, respectively. 

The idea for the rebate emerged when chief petitioner Antonio Gisbert and his friends were talking about how corporations weren’t paying their fair share in taxes when so many people are struggling to get by. “We all feel like we’re getting squeezed,” Gisbert says. “Everything is more and more expensive all the time and it’s harder to make ends meet, no matter how hard you work.” 

Gisbert and his friends decided to take the model of Measure 97. Measure 97 was on the November 2016 ballot and proposed a 2.5 percent tax on corporations that made more than $25 million in sales. Had the measure passed, that tax revenue would have gone to the Oregon Legislature’s general fund. Gisbert says he and his friends took that tax model and made a big change: Have the tax revenue go directly to residents. 

Under the current tax structure, Johnson says corporations that make more than $25 million in sales only pay one-eighth of 1 percent in taxes. If passed, the proposed ballot measure would raise taxes on those corporations to 3 percent, a half percent more than what Measure 97 proposed. 

Gisbert says that it’s a marginal tax rate, so the increased tax rate is applicable on sales made after the $25 million mark. 

A key difference between Measure 97 and the rebate, Johnson says, is that the money goes directly to residents rather than going to the Oregon Legislature’s general budget. 

Johnson says they’re using the state’s ballot measure process to bypass the Oregon Legislature. People can’t wait any longer for politicians, he adds, especially as the child care tax credit continues to be stuck in the U.S. Senate along with much of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better agenda. “Politicians who you can’t depend on,” Johnson says. “Oregonians can’t count on [Sen.] Joe Manchin of West Virginia to do what’s best for everyday Oregonians.” 

Gisbert estimates that an individual Oregonian could see an annual rebate check of $750, though that number would fluctuate depending on how much the state collects from corporations. The rebate depends on  how many people — including dependents — are in the household, so a family of four would see about $3,000 per year. He says that such a rebate could reduce child poverty by about 26 percent in Oregon. 

Although it’s not yet on the ballot, the Oregon People’s Rebate has received some campaign finance support. It has received $36,300 from the nonprofit Gerald Huff for Humanity Inc., an organization that advocates for universal basic income. 

Universal basic income is a guaranteed sum of money that comes from the government to decrease the number of people in poverty, according to the Gerald Huff for Humanity organization. The Oregon People’s Rebate is a tax credit, not a universal basic income program, which would deliver money regularly to the bank account of a resident. 

Petitioners of the Oregon People’s Rebate still need a lot of signatures before landing on the November ballot, though they say they’re on track for the July deadline. If the petition does become a ballot measure, it could face a battle similar to the one that defeated Measure 97. 

Opponents of Measure 97 raised a lot of money to fight the ballot measure. One campaign called Defeat the Tax on Oregon Sales had a war chest of $27.2 million, according to campaign finance data from OreStar. Notable contributors to the campaign included $2.3 million each from Albertsons-Safeway, Costco Wholesale and Kroger/Fred Meyer. Measure 97 failed, with 59 percent of voters rejecting it. 

But the petitioners say the political climate has changed dramatically since 2016. 

“Anti-corporate sentiment is much more prevalent across the political spectrum, including conservatives and Republicans,” Johnson says. “I think if you did polling six years ago how Republicans and conservatives felt about corporations, you’d hear things about how corporations are made up of people and they’re job creators.” 

Johnson says he expects large corporations such as Nike and Comcast to oppose the rebate if it gets on the November ballot, so it’ll take everyday Oregonians to rise up and defeat that corporate influence. 

One of the talking points Johnson thinks corporations will focus on is how expensive it’ll be for them to conduct business in Oregon. But, he points out, “Intel, Nike, Apple, they’re still going to continue to sell their products in the state of Oregon, so it doesn’t matter if you have your headquarters in Ohio or Oregon, you’re doing business in Oregon and generating over $25 million in sales,” Johnson says. “Why wouldn’t you want to do business in a state that you’re generating more than $25 million in?” 

He adds that a MacBook or a pair of Nikes cost the same, whether it’s in Boise or Eugene, and businesses pay more in taxes to operate in other U.S. states. “This marginal tax rate doesn’t impact the cost of goods that big corporations want to claim,” he adds. Corporations will say they’ll pass the cost of doing business on to the consumer, “but they’ll fight hard to not enact the tax that they supposedly don’t pay.” 

If the rebate gets on the November ballot and voters approve the measure, Gisbert says the amount of money given to residents of Lane County would be about $281 million a year. In Eugene alone it would be about $126 million per year and $46 million in Springfield. 

“To keep things in perspective, if you compare these numbers with the World Athletics Championships, it’s a lot of money,” he says. “And the city doesn’t have to host an event.”

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