The chief petitioner behind the Oregon People’s Rebate initiative sees an opportunity to help residents supplement their household budgets while providing a boost to local economies. The rebate would pay out annually approximately $750 to every Oregonian — regardless of age, income or any other status — as long as the individual lived in the state for 200 days the previous year. That adds up to about $3,000 for a family of four.
The other part of the equation that makes the payments possible would come from increasing the minimum tax on corporations that earn more than $25 million a year in Oregon from less than 1% to 3%.
Supporters are gathering signatures in hopes of putting the initiative on the November 2022 ballot. Antonio Gisbert, chief petitioner and a Philomath resident, has no doubt that everybody can use a little extra and believes large corporations aren’t paying their fair share.
“I hear all kinds of things like fixing vehicles, getting out of a crappy apartment and putting down the money for a deposit and first month’s rent, and things like getting my teeth fixed,” Gisbert said, describing some of the things people have told him about how the extra money would be used. “You never know … everybody you ask has a little something that they could use help with.”
Gisbert describes Oregon People’s Rebate as people-powered and nonpartisan.
“We like to say that we’re not doing something that is left or right, but is the very top and then everybody else,” he said. “For example, no matter who you vote for … most people are having trouble making ends meet.”
READ MORE For more information on the Oregon People’s Rebate, try the following: • FAQs as found on the Oregon People’s Rebate website • Read the full text of the Oregon People’s Rebate petition • Watch a YouTube video entitled: Oregon People’s Rebate: What Is It and How Does it Work?
Based on calculations using tax projections and 2017 population numbers, the rebate value would be $3.6 million in Philomath and $68.2 million in Benton County.
Filed as Initiative Petition 6, Oregon People’s Rebate volunteers must collect 112,020 valid signatures and submit the petition by the state’s July 8, 2022 deadline. To make sure signatures are “good,” Gisbert said they will be trying to collect 130,000 to 145,000.
In 2016, a similar measure failed by a 59-41 margin but there were some major differences. Measure 97 called for a 2.5% corporate minimum tax for those with Oregon sales exceeding $25 million but the proceeds would go to the state government to boost the budget for things like education, health care and senior services.
At the time, the ballot measure attracted the most money ever spent on campaign advertising by pro and anti groups and organizations.
Despite Measure 97’s failure, the concept took hold as a good idea to the people behind the Oregon People’s Rebate effort. Gisbert remembers first talking about it over coffee with friends.
“We thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if it had been different, if the money had just been returned to us, the people of Oregon, so we could afford to pay for stuff and help making ends meet a little bit easier?’” Gisbert said.
Gisbert didn’t let the idea fade as just another topic of conversation over coffee. He explored how difficult it might be to go through the process and shortly thereafter, a dozen or so people coming and going put their heads together to come up with language for the draft ballot initiative.
“At one point in time, I remember specifically that in the last meeting where we set the proposal for the new corporate tax … three or four people in that meeting were experiencing homelessness at that moment,” Gisbert said. “I mean, super diverse, right? And so we got together and thought this would be reasonable and from then, it was filing with the state, going through the motions and rounding up the troops to get the signatures to get on the ballot.”
The Oregon People’s Rebate volunteers had originally hoped to get the initiative on the 2020 ballot but the group got a late start and had issues trying to collect signatures with the pandemic in full swing.
The group is now trying to collect signatures by mail through a form on its website. They’ll follow up this coming spring by getting out to chosen venues with their clipboards, much like others who are trying to collect signatures for initiatives.
“But we have this advantage that we’re a little bit early,” Gisbert said. “We’re excited about doing it that way … it’s kind of an innovative thing that hasn’t been done yet.”
On the minimum tax rate part of the plan, Gisbert said corporations earning more than $25 million per year are paying less than one-eighth of 1%, a number lower than what the average individual shells out.
The initiative increases that corporate minimum to 3% on dollars earned above the $25 million mark. Only income earned in Oregon would be subject to the tax. Businesses already paying 3% or more in taxes would not see an increase.
“The minimum corporate tax to us feels like it’s unconsciously low,” Gisbert said. “By raising that, it doesn’t matter how many loopholes there are above it, corporations have to pay that (minimum tax).”
But could an increase in the corporate minimum lead to businesses leaving Oregon? Gisbert says the answer should be no because the tax applies regardless of where the company is located. It’s a tax on revenue earned in Oregon.
If the initiative makes it on the ballot, a likely outcome will be corporations investing in advertising campaigns against its passage.
“Corporations have this playbook that they draw from whenever somebody threatens their bottom line,” Gisbert said, “so we can sort of anticipate the talking point that’s going to basically say that the world’s going to come to an end if they have to pay a little bit more in taxes. We disagree and I think there’s compelling evidence to suggest that’s not the case.”
In recent years, Oregon-based businesses have seen their tax bills go up with passage of the Oregon Corporate Activity Tax, which benefits education funding. The CAT is imposed on businesses at a rate of 0.57% of receipts less deductions on sales over $1 million. A 1% payroll tax to fund paid family medical leave is scheduled to go into effect in 2022.
Gisbert estimates that the rebates would reduce poverty by about 15% in Oregon — 26% when it comes to child poverty. He added that the rebates would not affect any income-based benefits that families or individuals receive.
“There should be no penalty for low-income people to accept the rebate,” Gisbert said. “To us it would be utterly unfair to get penalized.”
However, Gisbert added it cannot control what happens with federal income tax returns — that’s up to the Internal Revenue Service.
“Our federal electeds — we have some language … empowering them to work on making this nontaxable at the federal level,” Gisbert said. “It is a rebate and so you can make the case that it is not income. … At the end of the day, even if you’re taxed on it at the federal level, you’ll still end up with more money than if you don’t.”
People with any of those types of concerns would have the option of declining the rebates. Individuals and families would have the choice of receiving rebates when filing taxes or filling out a form to receive it via electronic means or as a paper check.
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