Signature Tallies Step Up Fall Ballot Push

Five initiative campaigns turned in signatures by Friday to try to qualify for the November ballot, giving voters their first glimpse of what measures they may see this fall.

The petitions tackle issues ranging from property condemnation to public reporting of corporations’ state tax payments.

Initiative campaigns have six more weeks to collect signatures, but Friday was the deadline for groups seeking to qualify early or get a specific count of how many voter signatures they need.

The proposal that has collected the most signatures is one that would prohibit government from condemning private property to give it to another private party. Oregonians In Action, a property-rights group, needs 75,000 valid signatures to make the ballot, and it turned in more than 40,000 signatures above that.

Although the group’s president, Dave Hunnicutt, is confident the proposal will make the ballot, he noted that Secretary of State Bill Bradbury’s office found slightly more than 60 percent of the group’s signatures valid when it placed Measure 37 on the 2004 ballot. Voters approved the measure that required government to drop land-use rules that harm property values, or pay owners for the loss.

A total of 29 initiatives have been approved for signature-gathering, but several have been withdrawn or are not circulating petitions. That leaves about 20 initiatives believed to be collecting signatures.

Most of those did not submit petitions Friday, including measures to limit state spending, to use a cigarette tax to fund universal health care for children, to create open primaries and to require parents be alerted before a daughter younger than 18 could receive an abortion.

The private property measure sprang from a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year ruling that the U.S. Constitution allows governments to condemn private property and give it to someone else, Hunnicutt said. The ruling noted, however, that states can choose to restrict such a practice.

No one filed comments opposing the measure and its wording, so it is not known how much opposition the proposal would have if it goes to voters this year.

Most would change state law

All but one of the initiatives turning in petitions Friday would change state law. These need 75,630 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, less than required for constitutional amendments.

The proposals so far include ones that would address how judges are elected and the public reporting of corporations’ state tax payments. Others would tackle insurance premiums and personal income tax deductions.

A union-backed campaign turned in 84,000 signatures for an initiative to require large corporations to make public their sales, state income tax payments, and other financial information.

The initiative’s wording says disclosure of that information will improve the ability of Oregonians to evaluate state income tax policies and hold lawmakers accountable for tax and government revenue decisions.

No state asks businesses to pay a lighter share of its state budget than Oregon does. Most corporations that do business in Oregon pay $10 a year in income taxes.

The campaign is a partnership of the Oregon Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, and Our Oregon, a nonprofit group that is primarily union-funded, said Our Oregon spokeswoman Patty Wentz.

Harvey Mathews, a lobbyist for the state’s largest industry association, Associated Oregon Industries, objected to the wording of the initiative’s ballot title and appealed the wording to the Oregon Supreme Court. But the court approved the wording this year, and it was cleared for signature-gathering March 20.

FreedomWorks Oregon, an anti-tax group, submitted petitions for two initiatives –one on income tax deductions and another on electing judges. The judges’ proposal would amend the Oregon Constitution to have Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges elected from seven geographic districts, rather than the current statewide elections. A similar proposal nearly passed in November 2002.

The other FreedomWorks proposal calls for giving Oregonians the same personal income tax deduction they receive on their federal tax return. Our Oregon, the union-backed group, says figures from legislative revenue officials show the move would reduce the state’s income tax revenues by $156 million for the 2005-07 biennium, then by another $835 million for 2007-09.

Russ Walker, Oregon director for FreedomWorks, said sending the money to taxpayers would help the state economy more than sending it to the state government. “Every dollar we can put back in taxpayers’ pockets is a good thing,” Walker said.

Tax-reduction activist Bill Sizemore was the last person to turn in initiative petitions Friday. He submitted 84,000 signatures for his proposal that would prohibit insurance companies from basing rates or premiums on a person’s credit score.

Three of the issues –insurance, judges and deductions –have each received at least $100,000 from Loren Parks, the Nevada resident who has an Aloha-based medical equipment business and has contributed more than $1 million to this year’s campaigns in Oregon.