Oregon voters passed Measure 101 on Tuesday, saving state lawmakers from having to go back to the drawing board. The ballot measure passed with 61 percent of statewide ballots in favor and 39 percent opposed, according to unofficial results.
In Umatilla County, the measure failed by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent. Only 12,346 of the county’s 42,156 voters — or 29 percent — turned in ballots. In Morrow County, the measure failed 60 percent to 40 percent. Turnout was also 29 percent.
Supporters and opponents fought a fierce war of words during the months leading to the election, but the public remained relatively blasé, maybe confused, by the ballot measure. Only 32.4 percent of Oregon voters cast a ballot according to data Tuesday night.
The lone ballot item in January’s special election asked voters to approve or disprove a plan to cover a billion-dollar deficit in Medicare coverage with a package of tax and fee increases. Oregon lawmakers had actually approved the package during the last legislative session. Large hospitals would pay a 0.7 percent tax and health care insurance companies and certain other providers would pay 1.5 percent. Three Republican representatives — Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Cottage Grove, Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, and Sal Esquivel, R-Medford — launched a referendum drive to repeal the bill.
Patty Wentz, spokeswoman for the Yes for Health Care campaign, was in an ebullient mood on election night.
“This is an overwhelming victory for everyone who counts on Medicare for their health care,” she said. “Everyone deserves affordable health care.”
In recent weeks Wentz stumped for the measure, saying the fate of more than 350,000 people added to the Oregon Health Plan as part of Medicaid expansion was uncertain if the measure failed. She also feared losing federal matching funds if the measure went down. With it, she said, the state puts up the $210 to $320 million it raises from the tax and it gets matched and expanded to $1.3 billion by federal dollars.
Wentz said the election result was a clear message that “Oregonians are going to band together against anyone who tries to take their health care away.”
On Tuesday morning, Parrish said was still unsure what voters would decide. She suspected the timing of the special election could hinder turnout and chided Democratic colleagues for placing the measure on the January ballot instead of the November general election.
“I have no sense of what tonight’s outcome will be,” Parrish said. “Win or lose, health care is a mess. My colleagues have kicked the can down the curb to the next biennium.”
The lawmaker, whose cell phone number appeared in the special election voters’ pamphlet, maintained throughout the campaign that most of the $320 million shortfall could instead come from elsewhere and that the tax hurts individuals, small businesses, school districts, college students and non-profits, while exempting unions and corporations like Nike.
“We set out to let the voters vote,” Parrish said.
Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, learned the results during a surprise birthday party thrown for him by friends. It was the only sour note of the night for him.
Hansell opposed the bill for two reasons. First, he said, he worries that this type of assessment, which he believes is really a tax, could become a funding model for other programs. Secondly, the ballot measure language wasn’t written by the Attorney General, but rather by legislators who supported it.
“If you could write your own measure, then you can present it in a way that’s to your advantage,” Hansell said. “I think that’s what happened here. This whole process was flawed and nontransparent. A lot of voters in rural Oregon saw through that.”
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