Murmurs: Business Taxes Way Up

In other news: Trial lawyers under fire in key House race.

Matt Garrett.

BUSINESS TAXES WAY UP: On the eve of ballots dropping for the Nov. 3 election, Oregon Business & Industry published a new study of tax increases since 2019. The study, done by the accounting firm Ernst and Young for the State Tax Research Institute, found that if the measures on the November ballot pass, Oregon will move from 40th in business tax burden to 19th highest, as business taxes increase by 40%. "In our 18 years of producing an annual analysis of state and local business tax burdens across the country, we've never seen a state jump so far and so fast in our rankings," says Doug Lindholm of the research institute. "This increase in business tax burden is significant," says OBI CEO Sandra McDonough, "and has the potential of making it harder for our state to grow new jobs." The study also found that if Multnomah County's Preschool for All measure passes, high-income county residents will have to pay the highest personal income tax rate in the country—14.6%. OBI opposes the $4 billion Metro transportation measure but has not taken a position on any other November tax proposals.

JUDGE RAISES ENDORSEMENT FLAP: U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken slammed Multnomah County Circuit Court candidate Adrian Brown for a photo of Aiken included without her permission in a political email sent by one of Brown's supporters, former Gov. Barbara Roberts. "I was blindsided by this email, as neither you or anyone from your campaign asked my permission or even gave me notice before using this image in political mail," Aiken wrote to Brown on Sept. 29. "If anyone had bothered to ask, the answer would have been an immediate no." As a federal judge, Aiken, whose office is in Eugene, is prohibited from publicly endorsing or opposing candidates for office. The photo includes Brown, Aiken and Tom Perez, a former Democratic National Committee chairman. The email did not say Aiken endorsed Brown, though Aiken argued the photo implied an endorsement. Brown disagrees. "There was certainly nothing to be gained to infer that a judge out of Eugene would be endorsing me," Brown tells WW. "The only mention of Judge Aiken was just identifying her. There's absolutely no endorsement that was implied or stated."

GOVERNOR RECYCLES TOP BUREAUCRAT: On Oct. 12, Gov. Kate Brown appointed former longtime Oregon Department of Transportation director Matthew Garrett to head wildfire recovery, for which he'll be paid $84.69 an hour on top of his retirement benefits. Garrett resigned from ODOT last year after two decades at the agency. Transportation advocates cheered his departure. "His performance at ODOT was rife with incompetent project management, fiscal waste, cronyism and fraudulent forecasts," says former Metro President David Bragdon. "He's just a PR hack with a pattern of saying things that turn out to be inaccurate." The governor's office pointed to Brown's statement about Garrett's tenure when he retired in 2019. "He has led ODOT with distinction, guiding the agency through the implementation of a historic transportation package," Brown said at the time, "and we will reap the benefits for decades to come."

TRIAL LAWYERS UNDER FIRE IN KEY HOUSE RACE: State Rep. Cheri Helt (R-Bend), fighting a tough reelection battle against Democratic challenger Jason Kropf, has made a campaign issue of a former prosecutor's allegations of racial and sexual harassment at the Deschutes County District Attorney's Office, where Kropf is a longtime deputy. On Oct. 13, Kropf said he would return $20,700 in contributions from the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association after an OTLA representative contacted the complainant's attorney and suggested the complainant remain silent. "Every survivor has the right to speak their truth and demand justice," Kropf said in a statement. Kropf also defends his own silence on his former colleague's allegations. "Ethically, it is not appropriate for me to weigh in on an open case in my office," he added. "I want my former colleague to know that I respect her and I in no way dismiss her truth." Helt's campaign manager accused Kropf of being two-faced. "Today Jason Kropf got caught—forced to admit his guilt," said Helt's campaign manager, Jennifer Stephens. "When he got caught, Jason Kropf suddenly speaks. But when it was about believing and supporting his female co-worker, he remained silent. That's called desperate hypocrisy, not leadership or courage." The complainant did not immediately return a call seeking comment. House Democrats hold a 38-22 advantage over Republicans and want to stretch that to 40-20, which would immunize them against future GOP walkouts. Dems hold a 16% voter  registration advantage in Helt's district, so she's vulnerable, but this scandal could help her. OTLA executive director Beth Bernard denies her association asked the victim to be silent: "Our members represent people who are sexually assaulted and sexually harassed; we stand with victims."

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