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Measure 103 'Grocery Tax Ban' Draws Millions from Outside Interests

Supporters have poured more than $5 million into the campaign to support the measure, led by grocery giants Kroger, Costco, Albertsons/Safeway and the American Beverage Association. And former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped $1.5 million into the opposition campaign last week, bringing opponents' spending to $2.7 million.

Posted: Oct 31, 2018 11:36 AM

By GILLIAN FLACCUS , Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon is one of just a handful of states without a sales tax, and voters have repeatedly rejected attempts to add one.

This election, a ballot measure asks voters to enshrine that opposition in the state constitution — at least, when it comes to groceries. Measure 103 would ban lawmakers from imposing any future taxes or fees on the sale or distribution of groceries and non-alcoholic beverages. It would allow taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana, which is legal in Oregon.

To outsiders, the measure may seem boring, but out-of-state interests have taken note.

Supporters have poured more than $5 million into the campaign to support the measure, led by grocery giants Kroger, Costco, Albertsons/Safeway and the American Beverage Association. And former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped $1.5 million into the opposition campaign last week, bringing opponents' spending to $2.7 million.

That's because while many Oregonians see the measure as another referendum on a sales tax, it's being framed by opponents as a pre-emptive strike against a soda tax, a revenue-raising tactic that's gained steam elsewhere.

"This is not about groceries. We don't have a sales tax in Oregon and we don't have a sales tax on groceries. Nobody is proposing that and nobody thinks that's a good idea," said Katherine Driessen, a spokeswoman for Our Oregon, which opposes Measure 103. "We know that dynamic here. It's not the first time we've seen out of state corporation spend millions on a campaign like this."

Proponents of the measure say it's not about soda, but about making sure that Oregon food sales remain untaxed.

It's also a response to another hot-button measure in 2016 that would have taxed the gross receipts of the state's largest companies to raise revenue in lieu of a sales tax. That initiative failed, but only after some of the same players that favor Measure 103 poured money into its defeat.

Dan Floyd, the spokesman for Yes on 103, says the gross receipts tax measure was the latest and biggest attempt to pass laws that would tax groceries either up front or through increased costs passed on to shoppers.

"In our industry, we're operating on a 1 to 4 percent profit margin, which is razor thin," Floyd said.

"We know revenue is important and we're not going to get into the revenue debate — but we're going to make that debate easier by taking food and beverages off the list of things that could be taxed."

That's an idea that appeals to voter Audra Maxwell, a native Oregonian who works at McDonald's.

Maxwell, who's a registered Republican, said this measure seems like it could end the perennial debate over a sales tax.

"Obviously, Oregonians don't want a sales tax. I'm almost 42 and almost every race has had something about a sales tax and we've always voted that down," she said while waiting for the bus on a recent rainy day.

"So, I'm thinking it's a good start."

If Measure 103 does pass, both sides disagree about its ultimate impact.

Opponents believe it would ban on any taxes associated with the production, distribution and consumption of human food, from restaurant meals to farms to the gas mileage for trucks that transport food to stores.

The broadly worded ballot language would create a "bureaucratic nightmare" if the measure passes, said Driessen.

"All of a sudden, anyone who has anything to do with their definition of groceries is going to have a really good argument for why they shouldn't have to pay that part of the tax," she said. "The breadth of it is really troubling."

Those in favor of the measure say that's not true, that it only applies to "the 50,000-plus items that are in our grocery store."

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 348766

Reported Deaths: 4161
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah54797689
Washington37988313
Marion36055444
Clackamas29094304
Lane26966298
Jackson22632300
Deschutes19577123
Umatilla14241144
Linn12380120
Douglas11795240
Josephine9233195
Yamhill8517110
Klamath7709110
Polk715380
Malheur551574
Benton529130
Coos489691
Columbia371343
Jefferson361450
Union313146
Lincoln310638
Wasco281540
Crook274745
Clatsop239529
Baker198028
Tillamook193328
Hood River188337
Morrow181623
Curry178122
Harney108424
Grant97612
Lake89011
Wallowa67012
Gilliam1484
Sherman1463
Wheeler991
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 4810682

Reported Deaths: 70604
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles147569426398
Riverside3693444990
San Diego3641044163
San Bernardino3563155566
Orange3227415518
Sacramento1576212279
Santa Clara1445181890
Kern1441461605
Fresno1441232051
Alameda1198871374
San Joaquin1018071708
Ventura1005241164
Contra Costa99234982
Stanislaus851571315
Tulare78945951
San Francisco54031645
San Mateo53828622
Monterey50696582
Solano45761334
Santa Barbara44836521
Merced41781577
Sonoma40711402
Placer38902415
Imperial35642764
Kings32369314
San Luis Obispo29653329
Madera23518281
Butte23364260
Shasta23360334
Santa Cruz20861218
Yolo20147247
Marin17581243
El Dorado16960149
Sutter13775169
Napa12808100
Yuba994282
Tehama9298104
Humboldt9102108
Nevada903990
Mendocino752786
Lassen746346
San Benito737372
Tuolumne673993
Lake6506104
Amador537264
Siskiyou442742
Glenn430330
Calaveras381780
Del Norte356141
Colusa301718
Inyo196739
Mono16445
Plumas15756
Mariposa127315
Trinity86011
Modoc6698
Unassigned1860
Sierra1760
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