- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - A proposal for the largest corporate tax hike in Oregon history that could pump a whopping $2.5 billion in additional funds into state coffers each year is now just one step away from getting inked onto the November ballot.

On Friday, a coalition of public employee unions dubbed Our Oregon, a 501(c)4 nonprofit, submitted the final batch of 130,000 signatures to state elections officials - strategically above the required 88,100 minimum so that it’s almost certain the measure makes it to voters this fall.

It also sent a message to the swelling opposition in the business community that the measure sits well with Oregon voters and that the unions are gearing up for what some lawmakers worry will be among the nastiest political fights in recent memory.

Unions handed over the signatures ahead of the state’s long-anticipated study on the tax hike’s potential economic impact, which is being released Monday morning and discussed in hearings that day with lawmakers in Salem.

“As we continue to make cuts in vital services, corporations in Oregon continue to pay the lowest corporate tax rate in the nation. It’s not fair and that’s why we’re doing it today,” Hanna Vaandering, president of the Oregon Education Association, said during a press conference Friday afternoon at Our Oregon’s downtown Portland office.

The ballot proposal, Initiative Petition 28, targets Oregon’s biggest corporations, roughly 1,000 by the state’s estimates. Those with $25 million in sales would pay a minimum $30,000 tax, plus 2.5 percent on anything above that threshold. That’s poised to bring in an extra $5 billion in estimated revenue during the 2017-19 cycle, which has a looming budget shortfall.

The additional funds would be funneled into various public services such as the state’s cash-strapped education system, which proponents say stands to have a positive ripple effect on Oregon’s economy at large.

Businesses, however, argue just the opposite, and they’re expected to dump cash in the ballpark of $20 million fighting it through November.

Dozens of business groups have started lining up behind an opposition campaign called Defeat the Tax on Oregon Sales - a name derived from their argument that the measure is a tax on sales, not profit. The group declined to disclose the donations received thus far until it forms a political action committee, which can’t happen until after the measure gets final approval for the ballot.

Rebecca Tweed, the group’s campaign coordinator, said in a statement Friday that the measure is “ill-advised” and vowed to fight it.

“The measure’s regressive tax would be applied to nearly all products and services including food, medical care, utilities and other essentials - hitting hardest those who can least afford it,” Tweed said.

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