When Joseph Fels established his fund for single tax propaganda, it was his purpose to have the single tax in actual operation somewhere in the United States within five years, and to this end the commission in charge of the fund began operations. Because the state of Oregon presented the most fruitful prospects, all efforts were concentrated there for the time being. Because of the strenuous fight which was waged, and the methods which were used, a somewhat detailed account of the contest will not be out of place, even in a book of this nature.
The factor which led the Fels Fund Commission to choose Oregon as its base of operations was the fact that a substantial single tax interest was already manifest there. Through an initiative petition the single tax workers succeeded in submitting a constitutional amendment to popular vote in 1908. The amendment, to a large extent, embodied single tax principles, and the campaign was openly a single tax one. The amendment did not carry, but the vote in its favor was so large that its supporters were encouraged to look for victory in the not far distant future. An interesting feature of the vote, especially to those who supported the measure, was that the county in which Portland is located almost rendered an affirmative decision.
Struggle for Local Option. - From the indications of the vote on this amendment, it seemed likely that the single tax could be installed in some of the counties if by some means county local option could be secured in Oregon. In 1910, therefore, the following amendment was presented to the voters:
No poll or head tax shall be levied or collected in Oregon; no bill regulating taxation or exemption throughout the state shall become a law until approved by the people of the state at a regular general election; none of the restrictions of the Constitution shall apply to measures approved by the people declaring what shall be subject to taxation and exemption and how it shall be taxed or exempted, whether proposed by the Legislative Assembly or by initiative petition; but the people of the several counties are hereby empowered and authorized to regulate taxation and exemptions within their several counties, subject to any general law which may be hereafter enacted.1
Unlike the previous campaign, the contest over this amendment was not carried through on a single tax basis. The single tax nature was kept in the background, while
1Report of Oregon Board of State Tax Commissioners, 1911.
the amendment and its title were worded so as to appeal to a large constituency. The poll tax feature, for example, attracted many voters because of the general dis-tastefulness of these taxes. The result was that the amendment carried by a small majority.
The adoption of this amendment but marked the beginning of the real single tax fight. The opponents of the measure arose in disgust and declared the people had been fooled and hoodwinked. The victors became radiant, threw off their cloak of disguise, and exultingly declared it was the greatest victory that had ever been won for the single tax principles. They immediately announced the single tax as the leading issue of the next election. Under the local option amendment, measures were brought forth in three counties to exempt all improvements and personal property from taxation. A state single tax measure was also submitted. A furious bombardment of literature and speeches came from both contending forces. When the polls finally gave the results of the battle it was found that the amendments had been overwhelmingly defeated. A few other attempts have been made at amendments, but they were defeated until 1918, when the State Tax Commission succeeded in getting some changes submitted and adopted. Provision is made for uniformity of taxation, and for the levying and collection of taxes under general laws which are to operate uniformly throughout the state.