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SALEM, Ore.--They were zero-for-seven in the past election, but limited-government activists Bill Sizemore and Don McIntire warned Monday that Republican lawmakers had better listen up and let taxpayers have their full kicker checks this fall.
They acknowledged that Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fellow Democrats in the Legislature aren't likely to pay attention to the advice of two initiative activists who have drawn their ire. But Sizemore and McIntire said their fellow Republicans should heed their warnings not to join in supporting a plan to reduce or eliminate the tax rebate checks by making an early payment to federal retirees whose pensions were wrongly taxed.
"The message I have for the Republicans in this building is that the consequences for their going along with stealing half or all of the kicker will be dire. We will not forget," said Sizemore, the executive director of Oregon Taxpayers United. Last year, Sizemore placed on the ballot and campaigned for six initiatives to cut taxes and crimp spending for schools and government. All of them were rejected by voters.
His fellow initiative author, Don McIntire, promoted unsuccessfully a measure of his own to limit government spending.
They were joined at a news conference by Mitch Shults, who as an Intel executive bankrolled his own unsuccessful campaign for treasurer last year, and Republican Sens. Randy Miller of Lake Oswego and Gary George of Newberg.
Asked why lawmakers should listen to a group of activists who were arguably out of step with the voters just a few months ago, McIntire shot back: "I can't answer that question. But I can ask the question, why does the Legislature never listen to us?"
Most leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature have been cool to -- but haven't ruled out -- Kitzhaber's proposal. With pressure to restore some of their governor's proposed cuts to higher education, senior services and public safety, lawmakers are trying to find ways to boost spending.
The news conference was the latest in a series of efforts to put heat on GOP lawmakers who are considering whether to go along with the kicker/federal retiree payment scheme.
Since Kitzhaber proposed the book-keeping maneuver in mid-March, Sizemore's organization has run radio ads criticizing the kicker proposal.
The Oregon Republican Party launched its campaign of sending recorded phone messages to party members' homes urging them to call the governor's office and demand their full kicker checks. The Christian Coalition of Oregon has e-mailed and faxed about 1,000 members urging them to contact Kitzhaber, as well.
On Thursday, the Oregon branch of the national conservative group Citizens
for a Sound Economy intends to have several hundred people at a rally to urge lawmakers to reject the governor's plan.
So far, Kitzhaber's office has received about 6,500 phone calls on the kicker, with about 90 percent urging officials to "give it back," said Kitzhaber spokesman Bob Applegate.
Senate Majority Leader Dave Nelson said that while he and his colleagues aren 't about to bow to pressure or warnings of retribution at the ballot box, they are taking into consideration their sense of obligation to taxpayers. And while voters may have rejected Sizemore and McIntire's limited-government, tax-cutting initiatives, they also passed a legislative referral placing the statutory kicker provision in the Oregon Constitution.
"We're hearing from the voters that they voted to put the kicker in the constitution and they're going to hold us accountable," said Nelson, who is set to take charge of Senate Republican campaigns in 2002.
Senate President Gene Derfler, R-Salem, is one of the few top GOP lawmakers to voice a willingness to go along with the plan. He said pressure from conservative activists isn't much of a factor now, as most tax-and-spend decisions are on hold until next month. That's because lawmakers want to find out if they can count on more tax money through an improved economic outlook in what will be their final revenue projection of the session. In the meantime, legislators are trying to squeeze out more dollars by trimming budgets for nonessential programs.
Derfler said he and other legislators are hoping to avoid the politically tricky business of being accused of shrinking or stealing kicker checks.
"I think if we can do it without paying the federal retirees early, we'll do it," he said. "That's the view of the majority of our caucus."
Senate Democratic Leader Kate Brown said she was hopeful that lawmakers of both parties will accept the responsibility to balance Oregonians' wishes for lower taxes with their desire to have adequately funded human services and educational programs.
"I'm very confident that in the end, my Senate colleagues will place policy above politics," the Portland lawmaker said.