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Tax foes submit 147,000 signatures

BY PETER WONG
11/26/2003
by PETER WONG on 11/26/03.

PHOTO

Ryan Lilyengren of Portland wheels in 147,340 signatures for a petition to not increase taxes in Oregon, into the state Capitol.

PETER WONG
Statesman Journal
November 26, 2003

Opponents of the Oregon Legislature’s tax increases submitted their signatures by the deadline Tuesday — and both sides acted as if the campaign already were on.

The Taxpayer Defense Fund said it filed petitions with 147,340 signatures, nearly three times as many as the 50,420 required under the Oregon Constitution to qualify the measure for a statewide election Feb. 3. State and county elections officials hope to finish the verification by Dec. 9.

Both sides took that ballot placement for granted.

“We have confirmed through this process that the citizens of our state are outraged by what the Legislature has done,” said Russ Walker of Keizer, president of the Taxpayer Defense Fund and executive director of Oregon Citizens for a Sound Economy.

“Had the Legislature taken stock back home and asked the right questions, had they been listening, we wouldn’t be here today with this referendum.”

But Margaret Noel of Portland, president of the League of Women Voters of Oregon, had a differing view about the three-year increases in personal and corporate income taxes enacted by the Legislature to balance the 2003-05 budget.

“We think this bipartisan plan is the best plan,” she said. “I am amazed how progressive and fair it is. It does cost less for people who cannot afford it, yet it provides the essential funding for services we need for the stability of our business climate.”

Oregon voters earlier this year rejected a tax increase referred by the Legislature, 54 percent to 46 percent.

If it qualifies, a “yes” vote is in favor of the increases contained in House Bill 2152; a “no” vote is opposed to them.

Thomas Schavland of Salem, a retired police officer from California, said he will vote “no” because he believes governments at all levels have not done enough to cut high-salaried jobs.

“They want more taxes to pay for what? Schools? Or more government positions?” he asked.

But Phyllis Rand, formerly of Salem and now of Sweet Home, said she knows vital services have been cut. She is bothered by the role taken by Kevin Mannix of Salem, chairman of the Oregon Republican Party, who opposes the tax increase.

“A man died recently because we took him off his state-provided medication,” said Rand, a longtime senior advocate. “Lives are at stake. This is not a game. But he’s treating this as one-upsmanship.”

Gov. Ted Kulongoski, the Democrat who defeated Mannix, said, “Though it is unclear whether this measure will be on the ballot or not, what is clear is that this (initiative) contributes to economic and educational instability in our state.”

Kulongoski did not propose the increase, but he signed it, triggering opponents’ efforts to put it on the ballot.

Walker said the Legislature could have done more to stimulate economic growth, drain fund balances, cut vacant jobs and public employee pensions, “and even some additional borrowing.”

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said that lawmakers have cut spending, drained funds, borrowed money and resorted to accounting maneuvers to balance the budget.

“To keep essential services going such as education, public safety and human services, it took super-majorities to come up with this,” he said. “This is probably the best we can do, given the circumstances.”

Peter Wong can be reached at (503) 399-6745.