Local Measures: Where a ‘Yes’ Result May Not Result in a Yes

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Last Tuesday’s election results showed that Americans are excited about keeping the country moving forward, at all levels. While President Obama’s re-election was certainly one indicator of the nation’s mood, many important local issues were decided with the same enthusiasm and spirit.

Here in Oregon, our local results presented a voice worth hearing: Let’s invest in what matters.

Back in the May primary, 70% of Oregon’s local tax measures that help to fund programs from schools to firefighters to libraries were passed by voters. This Tuesday, Oregonians stepped up once again, passing more than 2/3 of the new, local tax measures around the state.

The takeaway is clear; Oregonians made their desires perfectly clear. They want to support their schools, libraries, police, parks, and other programs that make and keep their communities strong.

Unfortunately, despite this clear mandate, the ability of cities and counties to follow through on its residents’ desires may be limited.The state of Oregon has a property tax limit that supersedes local measures – potentially prohibiting cities from enacting the levies which their citizens have approved.

This tax policy began in 1990 with the passage of Measure 5 and continued with additional ballot measures that further limited local communities’ ability to pass new tax measures. These measures have led to tax policy that not only created funding challenges for local communities but explicitly denied local voters the ability to decide for themselves how to fund their priorities.

According to the League of Oregon Cities, “If taxes exceed statewide limits, any voter-approved temporary taxes are reduced first until the limitations are met, potentially undermining the will of local voters.

So while Oregonians have shown that they are willing to pitch in to support the programs that they care about, the irresponsible tax policy put into place by Measure 5 means that it may not be enough to preserve these important programs.

In order to remedy this situation, it will require restructuring at the state level. And as it turns out, the Governor and other state leaders are currently examining Oregon’s tax policy right now.

Hopefully, the reform proposals they eventually produce will allow local communities to decide, in meaningful ways, how to support their priorities.

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