California, Colorado votes could hinder Oregon spending limit

California voters flatly reject a proposed state government spending limit. Colorado voters decide to ease their state’s spending cap, thus surrendering $3.7 billion in taxpayer refunds.

The vote in those two states could spell trouble for anti-tax groups who have been working on a measure that would clamp a tight limit on state and local government spending in Oregon.

On Wednesday, the leader of the main group promoting the Oregon spending limit said it’s possible such a measure won’t be pursued next year, although he insisted the California and Colorado votes would have “zero impact” on the final decision.

“We will make our decision based on our resources, our polling, and how we feel about our chances of success” with Oregon voters, said Russ Walker, state director of FreedomWorks, the Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for lower taxes and smaller government.

Others, however, said the Colorado and California spending limit votes are likely giving pause to the FreedomWorks’ corporate and individual contributors.

“They don’t want to throw their money away on a losing measure,” said Patty Wentz, spokeswoman for Our Oregon, a coalition of unions and other groups that advocate for adequate funding for education, social programs and other state services.

Political analyst Jim Moore also said he thinks spending limits, just like term limits for public officials, were all the rage in the early 1990s but have “peaked” in popularity.

“The anti-tax message is still strong in Oregon, but people are looking at Colorado and California and asking, `Is limiting government spending the solution to our problems?’ ” said Moore, who teaches political science at Pacific University in Forest Grove.

FreedomWorks has filed a proposed initiative for an Oregon spending limit that matches the one enacted by Colorado voters in 1992, the most stringent one in the nation. That cap limits spending increases to population growth and inflation.

Last week, though, Colorado voters agreed to allow government to keep billions of dollars over the next five years that otherwise would have to be sent back to them under the Colorado spending limit. That came after a campaign in which Republican Gov. Bill Owen and others argued that the spending limit has decimated key public services and programs.

Then on Tuesday, California voters rejected a spending limit plan advanced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of four government reform initiatives he had placed on a special election ballot.

Walker contends that the votes in Colorado and California were localized matters that don’t necessarily have implications for Oregon.

“It’s absurd to interpret what happened in California or Colorado as having an effect here,” the FreedomWorks chief said.

Walker said his group has various proposed initiatives on file to cut taxes, improve schools and limit the power of public employee unions — as well as the spending limit — and will decide in the coming weeks which ones to actively pursue for the 2006 ballot.

He noted that FreedomWorks led the successful campaign to persuade Oregon voters to reject a proposed $800 million tax hike in 2004, and he said he believes Oregon voters would support a spending limit if one got on the ballot.

“People want government to quit spending like drunken sailors,” Walker said.

However, Charles Sheketoff of the Oregon Center for Public Policy, a Silverton-based think tank that supports social services spending, said there’s no direct correlation between the rejected tax hike and the proposed spending limit.

“It was primarily a temporary tax hike,” Sheketoff said of the 2004 proposal. “They weren’t putting a mathematical formula into the state constitution to strangle state and local governments.”