It looks likely that the effort to gather 4,000 signatures of Salem registered voters in order to force a referendum vote on the employee payroll tax approved by the City Council on a narrow 5-4 vote is going to succeed.
Throughout Salem, in front of grocery stores and at popular events, people with clipboards have been collecting signatures in an attempt to bring the issue of a Salem payroll tax to a public vote.
As of Tuesday morning, July 25, the campaign has gathered over 4,000 unverified signatures, according to Oregon Business and Industry, the group leading the effort. The group needs to submit at least 3,986 qualified signatures for registered voters within the city of Salem to get the issue on the ballot in November.
The signatures have not yet been validated, and the group is seeking at least 6,000 total signatures to account for errors, before the submission deadline to the City Recorder on August 9, who would then review the sheets and file it with the County Elections Division.
I donated $60 to Let Salem Vote because, well, I believe in letting Salem citizens vote on a significant new tax that will cost the average Salem worker earning $62,000 about $500 a year.
Assuming that the referendum petition gets the required number of signatures, the City Manager, Mayor, and City Council are going to have a tough decision to make: should they give up on the idea of the payroll tax, or campaign to pass the tax in the November election?
This reminds me of a similar dilemma faced by the folks at City Hall when their scheme to install parking meters downtown ran into a whirlwind of opposition that led to a referendum petition getting 9,000 signatures, if I recall correctly, much more than were needed to put a ban on parking meters on the ballot for the next election.
The City Council decided to toss the parking meter idea in a political trashcan rather than risk an embarrassing election defeat. I think the current City Council would be well advised to do the same with the payroll tax notion.
Their big mistake was to ignore the pleas of the vast majority of those who testified about the payroll tax to put it up for a vote of the people. If that had happened, the City of Salem could have made cogent arguments for the tax and had a decent chance of it passing this November.
Now, though, the imperious attitude of the five progressives on the City Council who voted for the tax -- we know best, so we don't want to put this on the ballot -- has ticked off a broad swath of the Salem electorate, conservatives and liberals alike, as this tweet pointed out. (Councilor Nordyke was the only progressive who had the good sense to vote against approving the tax without a vote of the people.)
Either way, there's going to be a lot of anger directed at "tax and spend" liberals on the City Council, which is one reason why, as a progressive myself, I favor the council withdrawing the payroll tax idea and keeping it as an option for a future election.
The Salem-Keizer Proletariat substack has an interesting article in this regard: "Far-right PAC uses Salem worker tax to launch grift."
A collection of business and political groups appear to have a good chance at gathering the required signatures to send a recently passed payroll tax to Salem voters for their approval.
And while the petition effort is being led by Oregon Business and Industry (OBI), a significant portion of the signature gathering appears to be driven by far-right stalwart, Marion Polk First - an organization with a political action committee (PAC) that funnels campaign resources to some of the most extreme right-wing candidates and causes in Oregon.
...In fact, Marion Polk First made their motivations clear the very next day after the Salem City Council passed the working class tax. Their participation in this petition effort isn’t really about giving the people a voice, it’s about exacting political retribution on City Councilors that they are ideologically opposed to.
Nonetheless, the decidedly left-leaning Salem-Keizer Proletariat writer urged people to sign the payroll tax petition, since he believes citizens should be able to vote on it. Which points to the poor decision-making skills of the five progressives on the City Council who approved the tax.
They should have realized that a big new tax on everyone who works in Salem, whether or not they live here, was going to be highly controversial. It shouldn't have been a surprise to the Tax Without a Vote five that a petition drive to put this on the November ballot would both happen and likely be successful.
Now a November vote isn't going to be solely on the merits of the payroll tax and what the money would be used for, since the tax is tied in with the irritation of citizens of all political persuasions over the five City Council progressives claiming that they know best and no vote of the people was called for.
Except, it now appears that there will be a vote. Whether this will result in a threat to the current 6-3 progressive majority on the City Council remains to be seen. It certainly won't make Salem voters look more positively on those five progressive members who approved the tax.