Spending-limit campaigns spend time, money on ballot battle

A coalition representing unions, education boosters and business groups is launching a get-out-the-vote effort to persuade Oregonians to reject measures on the Nov. 7 ballot to limit state spending and reduce state income taxes.

Organizers say the effort against the Measure 48 spending limit and the Measure 41 tax cut features activists going door-to-door and working phone banks, urging opposition to measures they say would damage state services and “move Oregon backward.”

“It’s the final push,” said Becca Uherbelau, a spokeswoman for the Defend Oregon Coalition, which is opposing both ballot proposals.

The campaign in favor of the spending limit is being financed by more than $1 million from out-of-state groups with ties to libertarian Howard Rich who say the limit will impose fiscal discipline and end frivolous spending by government.

The Measure 48 campaign has run TV ads seeking to capitalize on recent disclosures about legislators who failed to report lobbyist-paid trips to Hawaii.

“You can bet they weren’t working to reduce wasteful spending,” the ad says of those lawmakers.

Opponents of the spending limit have raised twice as much money as the measure’s proponents — much of it from labor unions — and they have run TV ads that assert the spending limit could force cuts to schools, public safety, health care and senior services.

The anti-Measure 48 campaign has gotten plenty of help from numerous public officials — as well as the two major-party contenders for governor — who have spoken out against the spending limit.

Among the public officials who have taken a strong stand against Measure 48 is University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer.

He recently suggested that if the measure passes, he might ask that the university be converted to a public corporation — a move designed to exempt the university from the spending caps that Measure 48 would impose.

“Measure 48 is so thoughtless and so sweeping, it would cut the ground out from under our ability to maintain a quality university,” Frohnmayer said.

Matt Evans, a spokesman for the Measure 48 campaign, said Frohnmayer and other officials are making exaggerated claims. Measure 48 allows for reasonable budget increases tied to inflation and population-growth factors, he said.

“What you have is a bunch of government employees telling lies about the ballot measure,” Evans said.

Opponents, however, point to estimates by state budget analysts who say that if the spending limit is adopted by voters, the state will be unable to use $2.2 billion, or 6 percent, of state revenue resources that are expected to be available in the next two years.

The Defend Oregon Coalition also has been working to defeat Measure 41, which would reduce state taxes by $400 million per year by giving Oregonians the same personal income tax deduction on their state return as on their federal return.

There has not been much of a campaign for Measure 41, which was drafted by anti-tax activist Bill Sizemore but sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based group FreedomWorks.

Russ Walker, the Oregon director of FreedomWorks, said Measure 41 has attracted lukewarm support in part because of its “confusing” ballot title.

“Most people don’t understand the measure unless they take a closer look at it,” he said.