Editorial: Silver lining elusive in Measures 66, 67

Though we’ve seen many initiatives and candidates not go our way in our decades of journalism experience here on The New Era staff, it’s hard to think of any that have left us as disillusioned as the recent passage of Measures 66 and 67.

Few have run so blatantly in the face of reason.

“Whoa,” you’re probably thinking. “Take it easy. It’s just money.”

It is, but it isn’t. The passage of those measures demonstrates a problem that typifies the split in approach to life €“ and reason €“ that plagues Oregon politics. Measure 66, to jack up taxes on the “rich,” passed statewide by nearly 10 percent (54.27 percent) while Measure 67, which nailed those “huge corporations” that were allegedly paying only a pittance in taxes, passed by a lesser margin ( 53.6 percent).

Though final election figures had yet to be released last week, it is clear from a perusal of the nearly complete county preliminary figures that the generally urban and coastal populations €“ Baker, Benton, Clatsop, Hood River, Lane, Lincoln, Marion, Multnomah, Sherman and Washington counties €“ carried the day. As we were once more reminded, the mindset of a geographic one-fifth of the state dominates that of the rural populations because approximately three-quarters of Oregon’s residents live in that one-fifth.

We’ve bemoaned the dominance of the urban vote in our state before. Measure 49, passed in 2007, stripped away the rights of many rural landowners to split their property after the city dwellers got worried that too much land was being converted into condos.

Measure 2, which sought to restrict the Legislature’s ability to regulate land use, was voted down in 2000, setting up the passage of Measure 49.

Then there was the 1994 Bear/Cougar Initiative, which banned hunting bears with bait and hunting bears and cougars with dogs. City dwellers, then and now, have no concept of the realities of life in the “wild.” While there certainly isn’t an overabundance of bears, cougars seem to be multiplying, well, like cats €“ to the point that even state officials are now openly predicting problems with the growing population of mountain lions. Certainly, we here in Sweet Home know that they’re nearby €“ the rumor mill had it that one was seen over the weekend in a yard on Old Holley Road €“ and deer hunters swear that the increasing lack of success for many is due to the growing number of cats that are occupying the forests around the town.

Of course, few voters in Portland, Salem or Eugene would understand this because they haven’t wakened to find their pets missing. They see our rural lands as their weekend playground and they have no concept of the realities of life here. And they vote that way.

We haven’t even mentioned the Legislature’s attempts to mollify their urban constituents, whose opinions on issues such as timber and agriculture policy, public lands management, educational freedom, rural economies, gun rights, local control and more are in many cases diametrically opposed to their rural brethren’s.

The Legislature has systematically stripped power from rural communities, who are capable of producing viable, profitable businesses but have been restrained from doing so through legislative policies aimed at forcing rural communities to focus on other economic drivers for environmental reasons.

The really frightening thing about the passage of Measures 66 and 67 is that Oregon voters, for the first time, actually backed a tax increase. Of course, their presumption, after incessant bombardment via television and radio commercials, was that the brunt of the tax increase would affect the “rich” and evil giant corporations that were using loopholes and the state’s archaic business tax laws to skate by, paying a measly $10 per year, while (we were to presume) everybody else suffered.

The reality was that most of the affected businesses won’t be large corporations, but rather much smaller mom-and-pop enterprises in which proprietors have put their own savings on the line to try to make a living and provide jobs for local residents.

Now they will pay €“ not on their profits but on their gross, the money they took in before they deducted their costs of doing business.

The operator of a family restaurant, for example, might charge $10 for a meal but pay $8 for food, facility costs, employees, insurance, etc. The profit is $2 on that meal, but the owner has to pay tax on the $10. And he or she will have to pay the tax retroactively for last year’s gross, after one of the worst business years in recent history.

The list of corporations that once were headquartered in Oregon, but no longer are is long: First National Bank, U.S. Bank, Pacific Power, Willamette Industries, Georgia-Pacific, Jantzen, White Stag, G.I. Joe’s, Monaco Coach, Meier & Frank, among many others. They left, or quit, for a variety of reasons, but this slap in the face from urban voters is certainly reason to believe that others will follow. Why do business in Portland or any of the Columbia Gorge cities when Washington beckons right across the river? Or Idaho? Or Wyoming, for that matter?

While we contend both measures were badly timed and a slap in the face to industrious people who provide jobs and earn cash that are badly needed in our economy, we realize that there will be a marginal benefit even to Sweet Home.

We should be able to take consolation in the fact that at least our own Sunshine Industries and local schools will get something out of the financial pain being felt by many businesses that have barely been able to keep their doors open as it was.

Word on the political chat circuit is that the rest of the nation is watching interestedly to see what the results of Measures 66 and 67 will be. If they’re “successful,” you know other states are going to try the same ploy.

It would be nice to have others to share our pain, but that would simply be wishing evil on someone else.

We already have plenty of that in our own state.