A BIG WASTE OF TIME, MONEY AND CREDIBILITY

No wonder Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the state’s tax-hike set did everything they could to keep Measure 30 off the ballot. They had good reason to fear voters.

Tuesday’s 59-to-41 percent drubbing represented more than simply a rejection of a tax increase. It was a repudiation of the leadership that pushed the tax increase through the Legislature. How massive was the repudiation? Massive enough that the tax- hike crowd couldn’t make Multnomah County Chair Diane Linn the fall gal for its self-inflicted debacle. And not as massive as it would have been if Measure 30 foes had mounted a real campaign.

Yes, Citizens for a Sound Economy’s Russ Walker and the Taxpayer Association of Oregon’s Jason Williams deserve credit for their scrappy fight against Measure 30. So does Republican Party chief Kevin Mannix for seeing that the voters had a chance to vote on the tax hike. First Congressional District candidate Goli Ameri deserves credit for devoting campaign funds to signature gathering and anti- Measure 30 ads. Oregonians owe them all a debt. But the anti- Measure 30 campaign was a low-budget affair after the petition drive; it was no match for the unions’ Measure 30 crusade, much less the media’s.

Business leaders who did contribute to the anti-Measure 30 cause limited their
support because they’re tired of waging the battle alone and didn’t want to
spend more than necessary to defeat the measure. And business groups that might
have been expected to fight Measure 30 were either clueless or were cowed into
silence.

Imagine how massive the loss would have been had there been a well-funded
campaign against Measure 30.

Kulongoski and the tax-hike swells who brought us Measure 30 can’t say they
weren’t warned. House Speaker Karen Minnis told anyone who would listen that this would happen if Salem got too grabby when it came to a tax hike. She also told anyone who would listen that a mix of spending restraint and minor tax hikes would achieve a balanced budget and leave the state in good order — with higher state spending than we’ll have now.

But not everybody listened. Legislative Democrats rejected Minnis’ sound
advice. Kulongoski abandoned in August what he had said in April (“I do not
define leadership by raising taxes. I do not . . . think it’s good public
policy. . . . I think what we have to do . . . is prepare a budget based on the revenues we have and prioritize our spending”) and threw in with the tax-
hikers. A minority of GOP legislators either favored higher taxes or didn’t
have the stamina to hold out against tax-and-spend Democrats. And the tax-happy media played on.

Maybe now they should start listening to the speaker — or, at least start
acting a little less arrogant.

Oregon’s would-be tax-hikers might think they know better. They might think their higher-tax stand is oh so virtuous. But after two midwinter wallopings, it’s time for a little humility and moderation, if not some respect for voters. Right or wrong, they seem to think Oregon has a spending, not a taxing, problem. It agrees with last April’s Kulongoski; it doesn’t define leadership as raising taxes and wants Salem to budget within existing resources and prioritize spending.

That’s the real tragedy here. In addition to being a huge waste of time and money, the Measure 30 debate has exacted a terrible toll on Kulongoski. A governor who once seemed to “get it” — who set about reforming parts of state government, who realized the folly of yet more heroic appeals for higher taxes, who knew that our public sector had a credibility problem with voters — suffered a failure of leadership at a critical time. He should have stopped, not facilitated, this tax increase. Now, Kulongoski has his own credibility problem.

Voters can be wrong, of course, and governors and legislators aren’t elected just to mirror voters’ views. “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment,” Edmund Burke said, “and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” But Winston Churchill, who also knew
something about leadership and being out of favor with voters, understood that real leaders must to some extent reflect the public mood, as well.

Sending out a tax hike to a 59-to-41 shellacking betrays a fundamental
misunderstanding of the public mood. Then, again, it’s not exactly sound
judgment or real leadership. In fact, it’s a colossal failure of both.

David Reinhard, associate editor, can be reached at 503-221-8152 or
davidreinhard@news.oregonian.com

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