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Businesses raise $5 million to fight hike

PORTLAND — A coalition of business heavyweights has revealed a $5.26 million-war chest of donations it has been assembling during the past year to fight Initiative Petition 28 — the public unions' massive corporate tax-hike proposal headed for the November ballot.

Launching what's expected to be one of Oregon's most expensive political brawls to date, Defeat The Tax On Oregon Sales filed initial campaign paperwork late Monday with the state showing almost 500 corporate donors opposing the $3 billion annual tax proposal on big business.

Nike Inc., Walmart, Comcast, Costco, Weyerhaeuser Co. and Macy's are some of the biggest names on the list, according to the political action committee's filings with the Oregon Secretary of State. The bulk of the donations themselves came from certain industries such as car dealerships, grocers, utilities and insurance companies — sectors of the economy that, by the state's estimates, would be among the hardest-hit by Initiative Petition 28.

So far, the coalition has about $3.42 million-worth of cash left to spend versus the $450,000 in mostly in-kind donations the Initiative Petition 28 campaign has raised since last year — a fraction of the tens of millions of dollars both sides are expected to dole out ahead of Election Day.

"We've put a solid foundation in place to clearly communicate with Oregon voters that they will be the ones paying most of this regressive tax through higher prices for nearly everything they buy — groceries, gasoline, insurance, medicines, electricity, phones, medical care — costing the average Oregon household over $600 more per year," Rebecca Tweed, the coalition's campaign coordinator, said in a statement.

Under Initiative Petition 28, the biggest 1,000 businesses registered as C-corporations with $25 million-plus in annual sales would pay a minimum $30,000 tax, plus a so-called gross receipts tax of 2.5 percent on anything above that sales threshold.

The generated revenues would expand the state's general fund by more than one-quarter — all of which the measure broadly earmarks for education, health care and senior services, although the Legislature could spend it however it wants. Businesses' share of Oregon's annual tax base, which is heavily reliant on personal income in lieu of a sales tax, would jump from about 5 percent today to more than 20 percent under Initiative Petition 28.

The lion's share of Initiative Petition 28 campaign funds so far are in-kind contributions from Our Oregon, the proposal's union-backed political nonprofit. Cash donations came from such groups as the Oregon Education Association and SEUI Local 503, records show.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Initiative Petition 28 campaign spokeswoman Katherine Driessen said it's not surprising big companies "such as Comcast, Walmart, and Wells Fargo plan to spend millions of dollars to continue avoiding paying their fair share in Oregon ... and we're ready."