A group has been distributing fliers in Baker City urging residents to oppose Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers by refusing to pay their property taxes for October and November.

This flier, sponsored by a group called Baker County United, includes the lines: “Operation Boston Tea Party” and “Withhold Your Property Taxes.”

The flier rightly points out that the governor’s mandate has the potential to result in workforce shortages for critical services such as emergency responders.

But defying the mandate is hardly a sensible solution, or a useful one.

The best outcome is for the affected employees to be vaccinated, which not only gives them and those they treat a high level of protection against the virus, but also of course keeps them doing their vital work.

Employees who don’t want to be vaccinated can also ask for either a medical exception, which requires corroboration from a medical provider, or a religious exception, which just involves filling out a form.

Moreover, city or county officials, not state officials, will review and verify both types of exceptions, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

Put simply, the “mandate” that prompted the flier with its specious references to the Boston Tea Party isn’t really a mandate at all — affected employees have options besides being vaccinated or losing their jobs.

Having local elected officials pass a “public declaration of county wide mandate defiance and implementation of a self governance measure,” is not necessary to give health care employees an alternative to vaccination. Yet that’s what is requested in a letter that supporters of the flier sent to Baker City, Baker County and Sheriff Travis Ash.

Citing the Boston Tea Party is of course a common tactic for people who are aggrieved by what they perceive as government overreach. But the comparison hardly fits the current situation.

The Boston Tea Party was a 1773 protest against onerous taxation by an oppressive monarchy a couple thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean. Participants destroyed 342 chests of tea imported by the British East India Company — a tangible expression of their opposition to the taxation.

But this call to withhold local property taxes would have no effect on the ostensible oppressor in this case, which is the state, and specifically the governor.

It would, however, punish local governments that provide important services that local residents depend on — and pay for.

That’s where our property taxes go — to the city, the county, schools, the library and other programs, such as mosquito and noxious weed control.

Indeed, depriving Baker City of some of its property taxes could potentially harm the very agency that sponsors of the flier purport to support — the city fire department, which also operates ambulances.

Property taxes account for almost 38% of Baker City’s $7.8 million general fund for the current fiscal year. And the general fund includes the fire department.

Yet the flier calls on residents to not pay their property taxes for the “October/November 2021 period” until “our elected officials do their duty and make our community a priority!”

(The county actually sends one annual property tax bill per year — they’ll arrive later this month.)

Defying the governor’s mandate could also jeopardize the city’s and county’s liability insurance coverage.

People who are angry about the governor’s vaccine mandate would make a more direct statement by refusing to pay their state income taxes.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor

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