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Lawmakers want special session to avoid corporate tax ballot

March 4, 2016

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An aggressive proposal by labor unions to raise taxes on the biggest corporations doing business in Oregon is headed for the November ballot, and some lawmakers are talking about calling a special session to find an alternative.

With the 2016 legislative session over, a special session is the only viable way to hash out a compromise in lieu of the ballot proposal. Some lawmakers say they’re willing to do that, but they haven’t been able to get both sides — the proposal’s labor union-backers and the big corporations it would affect — to come to the negotiating table.

Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, introduced an alternative plan at the beginning of the session as a conversation-starter, but it never went anywhere. He said some businesses and private-sector unions recently expressed interest in compromise but not nearly enough to justify a special session.

“It’s now an appropriate time to focus on the potential for World War III in this campaign, unless people can come together and lay down the sword,” Hass told The Associated Press. “Business brands are going to be damaged, the brands of public unions are going to be damaged, regardless of who wins.”

The ballot proposal, Initiative Petition 28, would require big businesses with $25 million in sales to pay a minimum $30,000 tax, plus 2.5 percent on anything above that sales threshold. It poses a significant boon for the state budget, with revenue expected to jump by $5.2 billion during the upcoming 2017-19 cycle.

Republicans and businesses strongly oppose the petition, but sentiments are somewhat mixed among Democrats, who control both chambers and often lean with unions on certain issues.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said she’s “personally supportive” of the measure because the revenue-boost could help meet the needs of many public agencies and services.

“I will vote yes on it,” Kotek told the media after the session’s adjournment Thursday. “Whether or not I’m out in front promoting it is another story. As an individual voter in Oregon, I would vote for it. I think any measure on taxes has to meet the approval of the voters.”

Hass and other Democrats worry a bitter and costly fight between unions and businesses would only deepen the cultural and political divides that shape many policy decisions at the Legislature.

“That’ll be a bloodbath,” Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, told reporters Thursday. “That could be another very bad battle, a brutal, brutal battle that will divide us. And whoever wins doesn’t win for long because the wounds will take us years and years to get over.”

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