If successful, voters would decide in 2010 whether to repeal a tax on insurance companies to subsidize low income adults and children
August 7, 2009 -- Two men from Grants Pass have started gathering signatures to refer the 1 percent health insurance tax to voters. They filed petitions with the Secretary of State’s office after Governor Kulongoski signed into law House Bill 2116 earlier this week.
The law provides coverage to 80,000 low income children and 35,000 adults using the insurance tax, which will be matched with federal funds.
The men have a short timeline -- until September 25 -- to gather 57,159 signatures. If they’re successful, the measure would appear on the May 2010 primary ballot.
“We see this as sliding a sales tax in the back door without any public discussion,” said Jack Swift, a semi-retired attorney who’s had a career in maritime and land use litigation. “To us that’s intolerable because a sales tax should be a matter of public debate.”
An activist with the Tax Day Tea Party, a conservative group which protested what it called “out-of-control spending by the government” on April 15, Swift also belongs to a national grassroots organization known as Americans for Prosperity, which believes in limited government and free markets at the local, state and federal levels.
Swift’s collaborator on the referendum is Jim Frick, a real estate broker, who chairs the Southern Oregon Resource Alliance, which is concerned about the public use of natural resources.
Operating on what they call a shoestring budget, the men have no plans to hire signature gatherers. “We’re hoping we can piggyback on the other grassroots measures; it’s becoming a pretty big movement,” said Swift, referring to the signature petitions to refer the corporate and personal income tax increases to the voters. “We’re simply grassroots guys; we’re making ourselves available and will see what happens.”
Denying they have any ties to the health insurance industry, Swft added, “This tax won’t be a burden on the insurers; they’ll just pass it onto taxpayers. If we’d thought they’d join in the fight, we wouldn’t be here now.”
Characterized by their opponents as the “mad unruly manipulators by the Daddy Wrabucks of the world, Swift said he’s not looking for public admiration. “We believe we’re doing the right thing for the people of Oregon.”
Even if they’re successful in gathering the necessary signatures, the men won’t be able to stop the implementation of the insurance tax, which rolls into motion on Oct. 1.
All the major insurers have announced plans to raise their premiums to cover the tax, including HealthNet, PacificSource Health Plans, Providence Health Plans and Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon – which ultimately means consumers will end up paying higher insurance costs. The tax expires in 2013.
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