It’s Your Money, but It’s Also Your State

To Oregon schools, state police and other services

Measure 41 is an invitation to help yourself. Cut your taxes, keep more of your money, and don’t worry about the schools, universities, senior services, health care and public safety programs that make up 90 percent of the state’s budget.

They’ll be fine, the proponents say. Just fine.

Sure they will, at least over the next two years. Oregon finally has a substantial budget surplus after years of starving its higher education system and pulling its state police patrol off the highways. It’s true: Oregon voters can approve Measure 41 in this election and cut their taxes, and all it would do next year is shave a little money off their kicker checks.

But like most other measures hatched by anti-tax initiative writers, and backed by their out-of-state supporters, Measure 41 eventually would sink its teeth into the state. Beginning in 2009, Measure 41’s enlarged tax deductions would remove up to $400 million a year from the state budget.

That’s real money in a state that still has the nation’s most volatile tax system, no substantial rainy day fund, below-average spending on public schools, a defunded university system and a state police patrol less than half the size of the one it had 30 years ago.

Measure 41 would let Oregonians choose between taking the current exemption credit on their state tax return or taking deductions equal to those they get for exemptions on their federal tax return. The state’s budget analysts say the measure would reduce annual income taxes for most Oregon households by about $140 a person. Not everyone would get that much. Chuck Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy, says that because almost seven out of 10 elderly Oregonians are low or middle income, their average tax cut would be $31 a year, less than $3 a month.

So, help yourself. Russ Walker, the Salem-based representative of the Washington, D.C., organization FreedomWorks, which is leading the Measure 41 campaign, says there’s plenty of money sloshing around state government to maintain services. Bill Sizemore, who wrote Measure 41, is keeping his head down in the campaign, but Loren Parks, the Nevada resident and millionaire conservative bankrolling this measure, assures voters in a Voters’ Pamphlet statement that Oregon has more than enough of their tax money.

Meanwhile, here are some of the people and groups opposed to Measure 41: Every university president. State police, sheriffs, district attorneys, parole officers and prison guards. The Oregon Business Association and major businesses from Intel to Nike to Hewlett-Packard. Nurses and health groups such as the Cancer Society and Heart Association. AARP and United Seniors. Librarians. The Oregon Consumer League.

All of them are here to tell you that you can’t take $400 million a year out of the state budget and not affect education, health and public safety programs, and not without making it that much harder to build a rainy day fund to shield the state in the future.

Whom do you trust? In a different time in Oregon, when there still was broad public trust in major institutions and civic groups, it is hard to imagine voters looking at these choices, at these arguments, and deciding an out-of-state group and their conservative benefactor, not Oregon leaders, knew what was best for this state.

But as it is, state leaders are struggling to regain the trust of their constituents, and as hard as this is to understand, police officers, university presidents and firefighters have no more credibility with many voters than Bill Sizemore and Loren Parks. This is a time when everyone in public service in this state, even people who put their lives on the line every day, are cynically dismissed as being part of a “spending class.”

Measure 41 is a carefully crafted invitation for Oregonians. “Help yourself” is a whole lot easier sell to taxpayers than “help your state.” But, please, as you vote, consider the big picture: Everybody is better off in a state with strong schools, accessible universities, adequate senior services and a state police patrol. Vote no on Measure 41.