Initiative Sponsors Have More Work to Do

A property-rights initiative that would limit the ability of the state and local governments to seize private property is within 3,000 voter signatures of qualifying for the November ballot, the chief sponsor of the measure said Wednesday.

Another measure that would effectively cut the state income tax faces a more daunting task and will need about 25,000 additional valid signatures by a July 7 deadline to be placed on the ballot, its chief sponsor said.

Secretary of State Bill Bradbury’s office informed sponsors of where they stand in the initiative process Wednesday after a statistical analysis of signatures they submitted last month.

The property rights initiative would prohibit governments from using their power of eminent domain to seize private property and then turn the property over to another private party. It is a direct reaction to a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in June 2005 that upheld the right of the city of New London, Conn., to take land for a private waterfront redevelopment project to expand the city’s tax base.

David Hunnicutt, president of Oregonians in Action, said his group submitted 116,700 signatures and that Bradbury’s office deemed 72,842 of them valid — a validity rate of about 63 percent. An initiative that would change state law needs 75,630 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

In 2004, Hunnicutt’s organization successfully championed Measure 37. (The measure allows landowners to seek compensation or a waiver of land-use rules if changes in the rules reduce property values.) Hunnicutt said his group has about 10,000 more signatures that were not submitted by last month’s “early submission” deadline and has stopped gathering new signatures.

“I’m a little disappointed, but we’re close enough with what we have now,” he said.

The other initiative would cut state taxes by allowing taxpayers to substitute the more generous federal personal exemption amount for the $154 tax credit that Oregonians can now claim on their state income tax returns. In 2005, the federal personal exemption amount was $3,200, which would yield a savings of $288 for each exemption claimed for state income taxes.

Russ Walker, executive director of the conservative group Freedom Works, said Bradbury’s office told him that just over 50,000 of the about 87,000 signatures that were submitted were valid — a validity rate of about 64 percent. He said the organization is still gathering signatures and expects to qualify for the ballot.

“We’ve got enough money to finish the job,” he said.

Both Hunnicutt and Walker expressed surprise at the relatively low validity rate of the signatures that have been gathered and took jabs at Bradbury, a Democrat.

“They have made the process very complex and difficult, and I think that was on purpose,” Walker said.

Signatures supporting five initiatives were submitted for early consideration, but one of those was disqualified because the sponsors had not gathered the minimum 75,630 signatures to qualify for the ballot. The remaining two initiatives are still being analyzed to determine the number of valid signatures.