From The Register-Guard:

By: Saul Hubbard

A panel of 24 randomly selected Oregon voters has come out in favor of a ballot measure that would eliminate the corporate “kicker” tax refund, after reviewing the proposal this week in Salem.

On a 19-5 split, the panelists recommended that voters approve Measure 85 in the November election. A one-page summary of the panel’s findings will be printed in the state-issued voters’ pamphlet this fall.

Measure 85 would redirect any kicker refund money that would have gone to Oregon corporations to the state’s general fund instead, to be spent on K-12 public education.

Oregon’s one-of-a-kind “kicker” law, which is enshrined in the state constitution, issues refunds to both businesses and individuals when state tax revenues exceed projections by more than 2 percent. Measure 85 would have no impact on kicker refunds for individuals.

The corporate kicker as a whole has been worth up to several hundred million dollars in the past per biennium but has been suspended by the Legislature on multiple occasions so that the money that would have gone back to businesses in the form of tax refunds can instead be spent elsewhere.

Over five days, the independent Citizens’ Initiative Review Commission received background briefings on the issue and heard expert testimony from both proponents and opponents of the measure.

Among their key findings:

The corporate kicker money is not guaranteed to increase K-12 funding because of the Legislature’s discretionary spending of the general fund. The ballot measure earmarks the corporate kicker to fund K-12 education, but does not prevent the redirecting of current funding resources to other non-education budgets.

The corporate kicker has had no effect on the stability of state revenues because of its unreliability.

Eliminating the corporate kicker has the potential to stabilize state spending by introducing unexpected revenues to fill in funding gaps.

There is no evidence that the corporate kicker benefits or harms corporations.

The review commission was created by the Legislature in 2011, after citizen reviews of two ballot measures in 2010. The commission is paid for by public and private grants, not Oregon taxes. Each weeklong panel costs about $85,000.

The panel came out in support of Measure 85, despite the fact that the measure’s sponsor, Our Oregon, a nonprofit funded by the state’s largest public employee unions, declined to take part in the proceedings.

Citing the fact that voters went against both 2010 recommendations from citizen panels, Our Oregon spokesman Scott Moore said the review proccess is “a poor use of public resources and campaign time, and there’s no evidence that it has any impact on voters.”

Tyrone Reitman, executive director of Healthy Democracy Oregon which runs the panels, said Our Oregon’s position was “pretty incredible.”

“The panel’s goal is to provide well-reasoned information to voters, not tell them how to vote,” he said. “I firmly stand by what the process is about.”

Reitman acknowledged that the organization is hoping that more voters notice the panel verdicts this year. A previous survey showed that, in 2010, only about 30 percent of voters “took (the panels’ statements) into consideration,” according to Reitman.

Cheryl Bunner, a 37-year Springfield resident, signed up for the panel out of a desire to be “more informed” about Oregon politics.

“I’ve never been a super-political person; it never seemed like it mattered,” she said.

Bunner said the weeklong panel provided a lot of information, and that she flip-flopped several times before deciding she was against the measure.

The tipping point for Bunner? “The language of the measure restricts where the (corporate kicker) dollars can go,” she said. “It stipulates that the money has to be spent (on K-12 education) in that biennium, and doesn’t allow it to be put into reserves.”

Asked if she thinks Oregon voters will pay greater attention to the panel’s findings this year, Bunner said she was confident they would.

“Our statements are written in pretty plain language and have a lot less ‘legalese’” than other write-ups of the measure, she said. “It’s easier to understand.”

A different panel will review Measure 82 — which would end the state ban on nontribal casinos — in Portland the week of August 20.