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Measure 103: A bad idea

Oregon is one of only 18 states that allow their constitutions to be amended by ballot initiative, and for good reason.

Once something is in the constitution, it is difficult to fix problems or unintended consequences. Legislative referral — the other way to amend Oregon’s Constitution — fine-tunes amendments through the legislative process before going to the voters.

Ballot Measure 103 is a classic example of the perils of amendment by initiative. On its face, it purports to exempt groceries from new taxes.

But Oregon has no sales tax, and isn’t likely to have one anytime soon. And in states with sales taxes, groceries are generally exempted anyway.

That’s not what prompted this measure. It’s a reaction to Ballot Measure 97, which sought to tax large companies’ Oregon sales. The industry opposed it and voters rejected it.

Now, the grocery industry wants to enact a permanent ban on any new taxes on groceries, including food and soda, and would freeze the state corporate minimum tax for supermarkets.

Bad enough that a single industry should get special tax protection enshrined in the state Constitution, but this measure’s language is so confusing that it’s difficult to know what else it might do. For instance, the state Department of Justice says Measure 103 would ban new taxes on restaurant meals (Ashland’s meals tax would not be affected). The measure’s supporters insist new restaurant meals taxes still would be allowed.

That confusion is reason enough to keep it out of the state Constitution. We recommend a no vote.

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