Nurses, Richardson Clash Over Tax Repeal Effort

The Oregon Nurses Association is accusing the secretary of state of conflicts of interest related to an effort to repeal new taxes on heath insurance companies and hospitals.

A nurse’s union is lobbing accusations against Oregon’s secretary of state over a referendum effort to overturn a new tax on health insurers and a higher hospital tax that were approved in the just-ended legislative session.

The Oregon Nurses Association this week sent a letter to Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and also emailed newsletter alleging conflicts of interest. Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, is both chief petitioner on the referendum to overturn the taxes, and also a paid political consultant, who has received nearly $330,000 in payments from Richardson’s campaign. She has also donated more than $20,000 to him.

“We are in an unprecedented situation that raises serious questions about the Secretary of State’s ability to run a fair election. Hundreds of thousands of our patients stand to lose health care with the referendum and hundreds of thousands more will see increased premiums. There is too much at stake to let politics ruin the process,” Bruce Humphreys, RN, president of ONA’s political action committee, said in a statement.

“The best thing for Secretary Richardson to do is to be fully transparent and post every communication and document about the referendum and special election on a website for everyone to see,” he said. “We would also ask him to consider recusing himself from any future decision-making or statements about these matters.”

Richardson brushed off the ONA accusations.

“I am committed to fairness to all and favoritism to none in the conduct of Oregon elections and allegations of conflicts of interest are specious and unfounded,” he said in an email. “I was proud to stand with a bipartisan coalition, backed by editorial boards across the state, supporting the principle of consistency in the conduct of Oregon’s elections. The professionals in our elections division are fair and unbiased.”

The Secretary of State’s office is responsible for setting the rules for the January special election and overseeing the signature gathering and validation process for the referendum.

The taxes that Parrish and other opponents seek to repeal include a negotiated package of hospital assessments and a 1.5 percent tax on health insurance and coordinated care organization premiums. Those funds will be used to stabilize the individual heath insurance market and to qualify for additional federal Medicaid funds – thus ultimately benefiting both insurers and hospitals, according to proponents of the taxes.

Reach Courtney Sherwood at sherwood@thelundreport.org.

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