Minimum wage, taxes, immigration among controversial topics that could be on 2016 ballot

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SALEM, Oregon — Oregon's 2016 ballot looks to be filled with hot-button initiatives that have left voters sharply divided in the past.

Ballot measures on corporate taxes, the minimum wage, union rights and immigration all could appear. So could other issues new to voters, like repealing a carbon-reduction program and liquor privatization.

It's still early, however, and very few initiative organizers have started collecting signatures.

At this point, only one measure is assured of being on the ballot. It asks whether the mandatory retirement age for judges — 75 years old — should be lifted. That one was referred by the Legislature earlier this year.

Here's a look at some of the initiatives that could come up in next year's election.


Two groups have unveiled competing proposals to raise the minimum wage.

A group of Oregon's most influential — and well-financed — unions and liberal activist groups proposes raising the wage floor to $13.50 an hour and allowing local governments like Portland and Eugene to set an even higher rate. The so-called Raise the Wage Coalition announced its plans in July but hasn't filed paperwork to begin collecting signatures.

Meanwhile, a separate group is continuing to push for a higher wage of $15, which would be uniform statewide.

It's possible that the Legislature will squelch the minimum wage talk before Election Day, however, by raising it without a ballot measure. In fact, the $13.50 group has said it would prefer that lawmakers do the work.

Business interests are fiercely opposed to hiking the minimum wage, which they worry would make it harder for businesses to hire workers.

Oregonians voted in 2002 to raise the minimum wage to $6.90 an hour and increase it annually based on inflation. It's now up to $9.25.


The liberal group Our Oregon has proposed seven ballot measures that would raise taxes on corporations or wealthy individuals.

The measures look to set up a refight of a contentious battle between labor and business interests in 2010. Voters that year approved Measure 66, which temporarily raised taxes on people making more than $125,000, and Measure 67, which permanently raised the corporate minimum tax, which is generally paid by companies that are unprofitable or have low profit margins.


Portland attorney Jill Gibson hoped to push a so-called "right-to-work" initiative for public employees, which would allow government workers in union-represented positions to opt out of paying union fees.

Gibson told The Oregonian on Tuesday that she wasn't sure she'd go forward with the initiative. She said she was unhappy with the ballot title — the official description that appears on the ballot — written by the attorney general's office and approved by the Supreme Court.

The proposal has been closely watched by public-employee unions, whose financial heft makes them influential in Democratic politics.

Even if the ballot measure is abandoned, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken a case that could lead to the end of mandatory union dues.


In March, Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill extending a carbon-reduction mandate known as the low-carbon fuel standard. It requires fuel companies to reduce the carbon emissions associated with their fuels by 10 percent over 10 years.

Oil companies are preparing to collect signatures for a ballot measure asking voters to repeal the program. Environmental groups are running television ads to promote it.


Voters last year overwhelmingly rejected a measure allowing people to get a driver's license without proving they're legally in the country. Now immigration hardliners are eying a variety of other ballot measures.

One would designate English as the official language in Oregon. Another would require employers to verify the immigration status of their employees.


Grocery stores are pondering whether to push for a ballot measure privatizing liquor sales and distribution, ending the monopoly of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

Grocers successfully persuaded Washington voters in 2011 to end their state's liquor monopoly, allowing sales of hard alcohol in large retail outlets. They began an Oregon campaign in 2014 but backed off.

Meanwhile, with the potential liquor initiative looming, the OLCC is seeking applications for up to 17 new liquor stores in the Portland area.

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