City News

Business groups spend big to defeat Salem payroll tax

The November election which will decide whether Salem workers put part of their paychecks toward city services is fast approaching, with opponents raising nearly $170,000 to kill the tax according to campaign finance records.

In contrast, supporters have raised less than $6,000.

The campaign focuses on a ballot measure heading to voters on Wednesday, Oct. 18, that will decide whether the city of Salem can impose its tax on wage earners next year or it is canceled. Ballots are due on Election Day, Nov. 7.

With local, regional and nationwide heavyweight backers, Oregon Business & Industry’s Defeat the Tax on Salem Workers campaign committee has raised $168,816 of in-kind and cash contributions as of Tuesday, Oct. 17.

Among their contributors is $10,000 in August from the Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group funded by two of the nation’s most influential people in politics, brothers Charles and David Koch. The group promotes cutting taxes and reducing regulation of businesses, and is best known for its role in the Tea Party movement during the Obama administration.

The “Committee to Save Salem, led by Salem City Council Chair Virginia Stapleton, reported raising $5,569 as of Tuesday, largely from small donations from city councilors and community members.

“The Committee to Save Salem is a small, local grassroots effort aimed at elevating the conversation around the city’s budget,” Stapleton said during Salem Reporter’s town hall on Oct. 11. She said it has four members who volunteer their time.

Around a third of the Save Salem campaign’s total comes from donations under $100. Councilor Trevor Phillips contributed $250, and Councilor Linda Nishioka contributed $500. Campaign members Paul Tigan, Michael Slater and Dr. Irvin Brown each donated around $250. Tigan and Brown sit on the city’s budget committee, while Slater serves on the planning commission. 

The largest contribution to the campaign as of Tuesday was $650 from Robert Coe.

Meanwhile, business groups have been major contributors to the opposition campaign. The Salem Area Chamber of Commerce donated $20,135 to the effort to refer the tax to the ballot, and another $10,000 on Friday, Oct. 13.

Tom Hoffert, the chamber’s CEO, said the donations reflect concerns from local businesses that the tax will be complicated to administer, stretch worker budgets during a time of high inflation and deter people from seeking work in Salem.

Hoffert said the chamber is reconvening its own city budget task force, where members with expertise in accounting and budgeting will go over the city budget in detail with an eye toward other solutions.

“This is intended to lend a hand to the city,” he said.

Asked why the chamber didn’t act when city leaders identified a budget crisis and discussed revenue options earlier this year, Hoffert said city leaders putting forward a payroll tax galvanized many members.

“When a ballot measure comes forward, that’s a major point in time,” he said.

Oregon Business & Industry, the statewide business group running the campaign, and its PAC have spent a combined $85,766 on the referendum and subsequent campaign.

Other contributors to the no campaign include the political action committee affiliated with the Home Builders Association of Marion and Polk Counties, called Mid-Valley Affordable Housing Coalition, which contributed $5,000. The conservative group Marion + Polk First has contributed nearly $9,000.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.