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Oregon Unions Threaten Ballot Campaign If Lawmakers Don't Hike Corporate Taxes

As Oregon lawmakers continue to debate whether to change the way the state taxes businesses, some public employee unions are threatening to take the question to voters. It's a prospect that has some at the state Capitol concerned.

Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, is the co-chair of the legislature's Joint Committee on Tax Reform. He closed a recent meeting with a warning: If lawmakers and business groups can't reach a deal, the question could be decided elsewhere.

"What you're looking at here is potentially the last stop before the next ballot measure," he said.

A few hours after Hass made that statement, the state's largest teachers' union announced it would start gathering signatures for a pair of initiatives that would either hike corporate taxes, or make it easier for lawmakers to do so. Another public employee union kicked off a campaign to force companies to publicly disclose how much they pay in Oregon taxes.

It's part of a battle at the state Capitol over how to bridge a $1.4 billion budget gap. Supporters of overhauling the state's business tax system say the changes would have a positive impact in future budget cycles, too. Business groups have said they'll support minor changes in the short term, but aren't ready to commit to larger changes.

The threat to take the issue to the ballot comes less than a year after Oregon voters decisively rejected Measure 97, which would have hiked corporate taxes.

The tax proposals under consideration now share some characteristics with Measure 97. But backers say there are enough differences in the new versions to give them more appeal to voters this time around.

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting