By TOM JAMES , Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon state senator has filed a lawsuit against top lawmakers and the governor, saying the passage of a controversial March tax measure violated the state constitution.
Brian Boquist, a Republican from Dallas, Oregon, filed the suit Tuesday in state tax court, naming the Oregon Department of Revenue as well as Gov. Kate Brown and the heads of both halves of the state legislature in their official capacities, seeking to block the implementation of Senate Bill 1528.
The move amounts to the latest Republican objection to the bill, which passed the Legislature in March, and stopped a federal tax deduction created by President Donald Trump from automatically lowering Oregonians' state income taxes.
Because Oregon uses residents' federal tax numbers to calculate how much they owe the state, the federal deduction was set to effectively copy directly onto Oregonians' state taxes, automatically lowering them as well and costing the state about $217 million in its first two years.
The new law let taxpayers keep the federal deduction, but stopped it from copying over. Legislative Democrats including Senate president Peter Courtney cast the move as a fix and pushed it through over strong objections from Republicans.
Boquist said Wednesday that amounted to an effective tax increase and should have triggered a constitutional requirement for a three-fifths majority vote to pass, instead of a simple majority.
"No one is arguing the facts," Boquist said. "They passed it... The question is whether that complies with the state constitution."
A spokesman for Brown declined to comment on the suit, citing its pending status, and Senate President Peter Courtney likewise generally declined to comment beyond saying through a spokesman that the suit had been expected.
Central to the debate — and the lawsuit — is the question of which historical baseline the new law should be evaluated against.
During debates in the legislature, Democrats generally compared the law to taxes in the state before the Trump tax cut.
Compared to tax levels at that time, no one's state taxes will go up under the new law, because it only stops the new federal deduction from being copied onto state taxes, according to nonpartisan legislative economists.
But Republicans broadly objected to using that older baseline.
Instead, prominent Republicans argued that because 1528 was introduced after the Trump overhaul became law, it should only be compared to the lower tax that eligible residents would have paid when the new deduction was copied onto their state taxes.
Relative to that lower baseline, even bringing residents' taxes back to the level they were at before the Trump tax deduction would be a tax increase, opponents argued at the time.
At its heart, said Boquist Wednesday, his suit seeks legal blessing for that reasoning, in the form of a judgment voiding the new state law.