- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Public employee unions and anti-union petitioners agreed Monday to a cease-fire on competing ballot measures, avoiding an expensive and bruising showdown between unions and business interests.

The decision is a coup for Gov. John Kitzhaber, who has worked for more than a year to get business and labor interests to move past their acrimonious 2010 fight over two measures that raised taxes on corporations and the wealthy. He hopes to eventually broker a compromise that would have both sides support a wide-ranging tax-reform effort designed to reduce Oregon’s heavy reliance on personal income taxes to fund schools and state government, but the ballot measures threatened to poison the waters.

“Instead of spending millions on ballot measure battles, we have an agreement that provides an opportunity for people to work with one another on solving Oregon’s biggest problems,” Kitzhaber said in a statement. “I appreciate the willingness of the measures’ sponsors to take this enormous step forward.”

Our Oregon, a liberal group backed primarily by public-employee unions, has agreed to withdraw 10 proposed measures that would increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy. The group had said it would decide later which of the 10 to move forward with.

In a statement from its campaign arm, Our Oregon said withdrawing the measures clears the way for Kitzhaber to continue trying to broker a tax-reform compromise.

“The best news out of this deal is that Oregon workers will not have to face a major, multi-million-dollar attack from out-of-state corporate interests,” the statement said.

Petitioners also withdrew two anti-union ballot measures that would have crippled unions’ ability to exercise their influence in campaigns and in the Capitol. One measure would have prohibited the use of workers’ payroll deductions for politics; the other would have eliminated a requirement that union-represented workers pay dues.

Braeda Libby, a petitioner on the two union measures, said she signed the withdrawal paperwork “with a heavy heart” because she still believes in the cause. She said she was disappointed in the ballot title written by the attorney general’s office, which she felt was convoluted.

The secretary of state’s online system for tracking petitions confirmed that they had been withdrawn.

Last month, Kitzhaber also brokered a compromise between hospitals and the union representing their workers. The Service Employees International Union had proposed ballot measures that would have capped pay for hospital executives, required a minimum amount of charity care and required them to publish pricing information online.

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