Last fall, in opposing Measure 97, we argued that the massive gross receipts tax — the largest tax proposal in Oregon history — was too big a hit on the businesses that would have been affected. It was a back-door sales tax that would have been passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for essentials like gasoline, food and electricity.
We also argued that the place to craft more sensible revenue reform was in the Oregon Legislature — not the ballot box. In Salem, lawmakers would be able to pair any proposed tax increases with curbs on government spending (including PERS reform) and a plan for investing in our crumbling roads and bridges.
Leaders from Oregon's key business associations echoed these sentiments. Defeat Measure 97, they said, and we'll be at the table talking about paying our fair share.
Well, the time to find a seat at the table has arrived. In the past two weeks, Oregon legislators have identified potential cuts to spending, including a hiring freeze and PERS reforms, pushed forward a transportation package and proposed a tax on health care providers to help close the $1.6 billion budget gap.
Some legislators also are considering a gross receipts tax that, from a business perspective, too closely resembles Measure 97. A tax on a company's sales, as opposed to its profits, is inherently unfair to businesses that make no or very little profit, and a large portion of it is likely to be passed onto consumers.
Most business leaders have been clear in saying that a gross receipts tax won't work. Now, they need to be proactive and get specific about tax plans they would back.
To be fair, it's easier to unite in opposing something you hate than in building support for something you know needs to be done. Plus, business leaders have been meeting, behind the scenes, to test out options.
A comprehensive deal combining cost reductions and new revenues won't be easy. Changes in tax and spending policies will create winners and losers. But the best way for business leaders to ensure that new revenues are generated equitably is to be at the table, participating. Not waiting in the wings just saying "No."