Anti-tax campaign alleges harassment

The leader of the campaign to repeal the Legislature’s tax increase alleged Tuesday that a union-backed watchdog group is using “intimidation” tactics to try to thwart the campaign.

Russ Walker said that in the past week, the watchdog group’s volunteers have showed up at Portland area stores where petitioners were gathering signatures to try to discourage shoppers from signing.

“They are out there confronting people,” Walker said. “They are running up to people with ‘Think Before You Ink’ fliers. It’s very intimidating to people.”

Walker, Oregon director for Citizens for a Sound Economy, said the campaign has been the target of other forms of harassment, such as people putting false names on petitions, that he blames on the Voter Education Project as well.

However, a spokeswoman for the Voter Education Project denied that allegation and said that the group only is asking people to think twice before signing petitions that would trigger a statewide election on the tax increase.

“We’re just handing out flyers,” Patty Wentz said. “It’s hard to believe that anyone would have a problem with that kind of street-level education.”

Wentz also said that the group plans to expand its efforts in the coming week by handing out pamphlets to petition carriers reminding them that they need to operate within the confines of Oregon election law.

Opponents of the Legislature’s $800 million tax package have until Nov. 25 to collect 50,420 signatures from registered voters to block the increases and refer the issue to a special Feb. 3 election.

Voter rejection of the tax increases would trigger automatic spending cuts, including slashing more than $400 million from state school support.

Walker, in an interview, said the Voter Education Project is only trying to preserve the Legislature’s tax increase by thwarting the effort to put it to a statewide vote.

He predicted that tax opponents nonetheless will be able to round up enough signatures to force a statewide election.

“The Voter Education Project can do this kind of obstruction in front of stores, but they can’t stop people from signing petitions in their homes, and that’s where most of our signatures are coming from,” Walker said.

Wentz said, however, that the union-backed group is monitoring the signature gathering to make sure all laws are followed while giving information to people about the impact of signing a petition.