I believe in the value of voting. Most people do.
That's why so many were upset when the Salem City Council approved an employee payroll tax on everyone who works in Salem, resident or not, without putting it on the November ballot, as virtually everybody who testified about the tax urged.
Predictably, given the intense widespread outrage over this action, a group was formed to challenge the council's decision. Let Salem Vote has filed a petition for a referendum that would put the payroll tax on the November ballot -- where it should have been from the start.
Here's how Let Salem Vote describes their effort.
Oregon Business & Industry (OBI) has launched an effort to refer the city of Salem’s recently adopted payroll tax to voters.
On July 10, the Salem City Council voted 5-4 to adopt a nearly 1% payroll tax despite overwhelming opposition during public comment. The new tax will be a significant burden for employees, exacerbating the effects of steadily rising inflation and providing an incentive to seek work outside of Salem or stop coming to Salem for portions of work as they otherwise might have. For employers, the tax will create a significant compliance burden, especially for those with employees who work on the road, at various job sites, or on hybrid schedules.
“OBI is headquartered in Salem, and we care deeply about this community. We have no problem with Salem or any other city asking voters to support levies for important local services. However, this proposal is vague, the tax is high, the administrative burden is significant, and there is little assurance as to how funds will be spent. At a minimum the community deserves a chance to vote,” said Angela Wilhelms, OBI’s president and CEO.
Preston Mann, OBI’s director of political affairs and a Salem resident, filed the petition on July 14. The city approved OBI’s petition that same day. Approximately 4,000 valid signatures from Salem voters are due Aug. 9 to refer this to the November 2023 ballot. To account for possible errors and ensure success, OBI aims to submit 6,000 signatures. Time is of the essence.
Visit www.LetSalemVote.com to find out how to sign a petition, circulate a petition among neighbors and friends, or contribute to the campaign.
Mayor Chris Hoy and the other four members of the City Council who voted to pass the payroll tax without referring it to voters may regret their decision.
Note the third paragraph in the Oregon Business & Industry (OBI) press release. Even though OBI will say that the petition just is for Salem residents to be able to vote on the payroll tax, that's language to attract as many signers as possible as quickly as possible.
It seems clear that OBI, likely along with other business organizations, is opposed to an additional tax on employees to be collected by Salem businesses and would like to have voters reject the payroll tax. The statement "At a minimum the community deserves a chance to vote" indicates that there's a maximum: not only voting, but voting against the tax.
Worse for the City Council, if this does get on the ballot, opposition to the tax is going to be widespread. As OBI says, "For the average Salem resident earning $62,192 annually, the new tax will cost over $500 every year!" (Minor quibble: that statement should have said "average Salem employee," since the tax falls on everyone who works in Salem even if they live elsewhere.)
And aside from the obvious pocketbook concern, many people don't like that most of the $28 million a year to be raised by the payroll tax would go to hiring new police and fire employees, along with City of Salem staff needed to oversee the new tax.
There's scant evidence that the Police and Fire Departments are understaffed, or that efficiencies can't be found in these departments -- which already consume most of the City of Salem general fund dollars -- that would make the payroll tax unnecessary.
Yes, the plan also is for the tax to fund some homeless services. That's a good thing. But shoving more money at the Police and Fire Departments isn't wise, at least not without a lot more examination of how these departments could operate more efficiently and effectively.
I urge you to sign the petition if you're a Salem registered voter. Just click here.