Initiative to “empower many seniors to retain their independence” and “family home”
Initiative seeks to accomplish what failed 2019 House Joint Resolution did not
SALEM, OR – On July 29, Senators Bill Kennemer (R-Oregon City) and Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer), along with Representatives Cedric Hayden (R-Fall Creek) and Raquel Moore-Green (R-Salem) launched a ballot measure - Initiative Petition 10 - asking voters to sign and support a petition for a constitutional amendment. Impacting senior homeowners, this amendment would provide a freeze of the property tax assessment of a primary residence in the tax year in which a senior homeowner reaches age 65.
Oregon consistently ranks as one of the most expensive states in the nation for seniors to retire, given the high cost of housing and the fact that Oregon taxes senior retirement and pension incomes.
“The ability to age safely in place is the number one concern I hear from senior citizens in my community,” said Senator Kennemer. “Making these matters worse, are the realities and the impact of the pandemic and skyrocketing inflation. And with many of our seniors on fixed incomes, freezing senior property taxes will empower many seniors to retain their independence and their cherished family home.”
In 2019, House Joint Resolution 25 (HJR 25) was sponsored by Representative Hayden, now PAC director for the Committee to Pass the Oregon Senior Property Tax Freeze Act. It was part of a larger tax package drafted by Senate and House Republicans aimed at bringing down the high cost of living for working families and small business owners.
“In 2019, we were thinking further out about what Oregon would look like when the next recession hit and how we could help families in anticipation of such an event,” Hayden stated. “Covid and supply chain and inflation issues created a situation that has devastated working Oregonians and seniors, particularly those on fixed incomes. HJR 25 was blocked by the majority party, so we’re going to find another way to get this to the people of Oregon on their ballots.”
Rep. Moore-Green said HJR 25 was brought to the floor for consideration in 2019, but the bill died on a party-line vote.
“When I think about how seniors’ buying power for food, prescription drugs, and everyday necessities has been dramatically compromised, this is something we can do to help keep people aging at home,” said Moore-Green, who serves on the House Health Care Committee. Her interest in petitioning the measure stems from worry, she said: worry that there are not enough senior long-term care facilities and that, when such facilities do have space available, the cost for people to move into them is much more expensive for taxpayers than what they would pay were their property taxes frozen.
“We know it is much less expensive for the state to invest in programs like Oregon Project Independence and other social service supports that keep people at home,” Rep. Moore-Green reiterated regarding her beliefs, “but those [programs] are left behind in every budget cycle. This measure will permanently prioritize the security of seniors in Oregon.”
Senator Kim Thatcher said that, for her, the measure boils down to fairness. “At what point has a senior, who is of Medicare age, not paid their fair share?” Thatcher asked. “We’ve talked for years about the need for a homestead exemption for seniors because they are getting gouged in retirement with high-income taxes, gas taxes, and surcharges, and now they’re stuck paying the cost of the CAT tax at a time when they have higher medical bills and prescription drug costs. And every year, as their retirement income dwindles, their property taxes keep climbing. It’s simply unfair.”
To qualify for a ballot title, the petitioners must submit 1,000 valid signatures and go through the ballot titling process with the Secretary of State’s Elections Division. Upon achieving a ballot title, the measure will need valid signatures equaling eight percent of the total ballots cast in the upcoming 2022 gubernatorial election to qualify the measure for voter consideration in 2024. Signatures needed to qualify a constitutional measure for the 2022 general election was 149,360; petitioners believe the number will be just slightly higher than that during the next voting cycle, given the likely increase in voter participation anticipated for this November.
“Regardless of what the count needed is, we’re going to go chase those signatures,” said Rep. Hayden. “When we polled this issue in 2019, 79 percent of Oregonians – a majority of all age groups and all political parties – stated that they would support this measure. If the legislature won’t get it done, then we’ll use the power of the initiative system to get this to the people for a vote.”
The Committee expects to turn in the signatures to qualify for the title later this fall. This way, the petitioners can have a full ballot title ready for signature gathering in early 2023.
INITIATIVE PETITION 10 - OREGON SENIOR PROPERTY TAX FREEZE KEY FACTS:
- The measure applies to the primary residence of an Oregon senior property owner(s) upon one of the resident homeowners achieving age 65 by April of the tax year in which the next property taxes are due.
- A spouse/partner joint homeowner does not have to be 65 as long as one of the two homeowners has reached age 65.
- The measure does not give the property tax freeze for second residences or vacation homes.
- If the senior property owner is living in a multi-family residence, they are only eligible to freeze the portion of the property tax for which they occupy their primary residence. They could not seek an exemption on the portion of a multi-family unit used for rental income.
- The measure allows a home in a trust to be enrolled in the program so long as the beneficiary of the trust is the senior who would otherwise be eligible for the property tax freeze and the home is the senior’s primary residence.
- The measure requires county property tax assessors to develop a program whereby the senior homeowner who has reached age 65 can enroll in the program. It is the responsibility of the homeowner who would like to enroll their primary residence property to do so at any time after they’ve reached age 65.
- The assessed value of the property will reset upon the sale or transfer to where the assessed value the property would have been if the property taxes had not been frozen, regardless of the age of the new owner. As an example, if the property’s assessed value was frozen at $100,000, and the value three years later would have otherwise been $109,000, the property’s assessed value would reset to a $109,000 assessed value whether the new owner was 35 or 65. The new owner, if they are 65 or older, could enroll and freeze the assessed value at the reset $109,000.
- Property tax levies passed during the period where a home has a frozen assessed value can still be assessed against the home’s frozen assessed value, and will also reset upon sale or transfer to a new property owner.