Business interests introduced two ballot initiatives on Wednesday that would force state and local governments to spend more to reduce the public pension shortfall and make it more difficult for lawmakers to raise taxes and fees.
The proposals are a response to the Legislature’s failure to address the pension crisis and attempts during the last session to raise taxes without a three-fifths supermajority, said John Davis, a spokesman for the efforts.
“We’ve sat by the wayside as Oregonians for the past six years waiting for meaningful public action,” Davis said.
The initiatives could set up another round of intense ballot battles next year, similar to the expensive campaigns for and against the corporate tax Measure 97 that voters rejected in 2016.
Davis, a former Republican lawmaker from Wilsonville, declined to identify who is financing the campaigns to get the pension and tax initiatives on the ballot. But he said their campaign contributions will soon appear in the state’s campaign finance database.
“It’s a pretty broad coalition of business groups, individuals and interest groups throughout the state that are concerned about tax increases,” Davis said.
The two chief petitioners for the proposal to limit tax and fee increases are real estate brokers from West Linn and Boardman. The chief petitioners for the pension initiative are a vineyard owner and former Republican House candidate in Forest Grove, and a retired counselor and public pension recipient from John Day.
Supporters have until July 6 to gather the 117,578 signatures necessary to get the proposals on the November 2018 ballot. Both would amend the state Constitution.
The long-term unfunded liability in Oregon’s public pension fund is more than $24 billion. Initiative Petition 32 would limit spending by state and local governments as long as the pension shortfall is at least $1 billion. It would do so by tying budgets to population growth and inflation. School districts would be exempt from the limits.
Initiative Petition 31 would expand a requirement in the Oregon Constitution that lawmakers achieve a three-fifths majority vote to pass any bill that would raise revenue. Republicans were frustrated this year when Democrats considered passing bills that would have brought in more revenue for the state, on simple majority votes. Democrats said they had a firm basis to do so, thanks to a 2015 Supreme Court ruling.
“This would eliminate that and go back to requiring a three-fifths (vote) for any revenue increase,” Davis said. “It would also add fee increases.”
Katherine Driessen, a spokeswoman for the union-backed political nonprofit Our Oregon, said in a statement that the initiatives were “insulting to the students, seniors, and Oregon families who have been waiting decades for real investment.”
— Hillary Borrud