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Town hall Measure 97 debate: Should Oregon raise corporate taxes?

Voters listen and ask questions as a panel of supporters and opponents of Measure 97 debate at Portland State University.

"This is a tax on corporations, not on consumers," Measure 97 supporter, Tonia Hunt, executive director of Children First Oregon, told a crowd at Portland State University Monday evening.

But opponents of the measure weren't buying it.

"The proponents' own economist has called this a 'sales tax on steroids,'" Sandra McDonough, president and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance, said regarding the measure that would increase corporate taxes.

The two sides squared off in a town hall debate held by KATU News and PSU.

WATCH FULL TOWN HALL

A near record amount of money has been spent to defeat Measure 97.

Ballotpedia says companies like Albertsons-Safeway, Costco and Fred Meyer have so far spent nearly $18 million on the campaign against it. Supporters including teacher and public employee unions have shelled out nearly $8 million to make the case for the measure.

Some voters came to the town hall Monday with their minds made up.

"I probably will vote yes because we definitely need more money for schools," said Barbara Council, a school volunteer.

"I spent the last forty years working on building the economy in this state," said Don Krahmer, a lawyer, "and I think this measure would take it all away."

But others said they're undecided.

"I just wanna learn a bit more about Measure 97," said Desi Sanchez, of Portland, "whether it's a good idea or not."

David Benedict, who has a master of taxation degree from PSU, said he wanted "to understand both sides of the story and to see if there’s depth of analysis.”

A "c" corporation that grosses $25 million or less in sales a year won't be impacted by Measure 97.

But for every dollar it grosses over $25 million, the company would pay a 2.5 percent tax if the measure passes. Analysts predict that would raise nearly $3 billion in revenue for the state annually.

"Oregon right now has the lowest corporate taxes in the nation," said Hunt.

She and another supporter of the tax hike said it's time for big corporations to pay their fair share to help fund public services including schools.

"We've dropped now to the third worst graduation rate in the nation," Hunt said.

Opponents cited non-partisan studies by the state's Legislative Revenue Office and Portland State University saying corporations will pass the tax increase on to consumers.

"It's gonna cost the average Oregon family $600 a year," said McDonough.

Measure 97 supporter, Ben Unger, disputed that finding, calling the studies flawed.

"These studies aren't valid because they study a tax that every business would pay," said Unger, executive director of Our Oregon, "and remember, Measure 97 only makes less than 1 percent of Oregon businesses pay this tax."

"They made the mistake of commissioning the Portland State study and then disagreed with it," said Measure 97 opponent, John Tapogna, president of ECONorthwest. "This tax in this proposal was designed for political polling ... but was very poorly designed as a piece of tax policy."

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