The Oregon Legislative Counsel's office has provided the answer to a burning question about Measure 97, the November ballot measure that would raise about $3 billion in new tax revenue annually by imposing a 2.5 percent gross receipts tax on C corporations that have Oregon sales of more than $25 million.
In a 17-page opinion dated Aug. 30, Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson answered the question originally posed by state Sen. Brian Boquist (R-Dallas): Would all the funds raised by Measure 97 actually go to the state's general fund?
The general fund is primarily spent on education, healthcare and services to seniors—and those are the uses laid out in the ballot measure's language, which says, "all of the revenue generated from the increase in the tax created by this 2016 Act shall be used to provide additional funding for: public early childhood and kindergarten through twelfth grade education; healthcare; and, services for senior citizens."
The Salem Statesman Journal first reported on Boquist's concerns.
In his legal analysis, Johnson determined that in fact the ballot measure's assertion about where Measure 97's proceeds would be spent is incorrect.
Instead, Johnson wrote, about $250 million—the amount that state officials estimate could come from transportation-fuel related sales at gas stations, convenience stores, groceries and other sellers—would be dedicated to the state Highway Fund.
That's because of the constitutional provision in article IX, section 3a that requires taxes generated from motor fuels to go to that fund to be used for highway projects.
Johnson says that he believes courts would find that money raised from taxes on motor fuel sales cannot be used for the purposes stated in Measure 97.
"Expenditure for uses unrelated to public highways [is] invalid," Johnson wrote.
Katherine Driessen, a spokeswoman for A Better Oregon, the group sponsoring Measure 97, says the opinion will not change the campaign's approach.
"Measure 97 requires the money to go to schools, healthcare, and senior services. That's what the statute requires," Driesen says. "If the Constitution requires some diversion away from the will of the voters—directing the money to schools, healthcare, and senior services—that's for the courts to decide."