Anti Tax Petitions

Salem –

Armed with newly printed petition sheets, several dozen paid signature gatherers hit the streets Tuesday as opponents of the Legislature’s $800 million tax increase resumed their campaign.

Referendum backers temporarily halted their campaign last weekend after a union-backed watchdog group raised questions about the wording of the original petitions.

Hoping to avoid a legal challenge, sponsors had 250,000 new petition sheets printed up. They also decided to set aside 10,000 signatures already gathered by volunteers and to start over seeking new signatures.

“It’s going to be tough, but we will make it with a record number of signatures,” said Russ Walker, Oregon director of Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Washington, D.C.-based group leading the referendum effort.

With the clock ticking on a Nov. 25 deadline to turn in 50,000 valid signatures, Walker said paid petitioners began rounding up signatures Tuesday in Portland and the Willamette Valley.

Paid petitioners were expected to begin working in other parts of the state within the next day or so along with scores of volunteers, Walker said.

Paying signature-gatherers by the signature is no longer permitted in Oregon, but they can be paid by the hour or day.

In approving the budget-balancing tax package, state lawmakers set a Feb. 3 special election date for the tax measure in the event the referendum drive succeeds.

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

Walker and other opponents of the tax hike contend the tax increase isn’t needed and would slow down economic recovery in the state.

The union-backed Voter Education Project said Tuesday it would closely monitor the signature-gathering efforts by the paid petitioners to make sure they comply with state election laws.

Patty Wentz, a spokeswoman for the group, said volunteer petitioners need to be careful as well.

“We’ve heard reports of business owners just putting the petitions on the counter for customers to sign and leaving them unattended,” she said. “The law says petitioners have to personally witness each signature.”

Walker said those involved in the signature gathering are doing everything possible to abide by election laws.

He repeated his earlier criticism of the Voter Education Project, saying the group is trying to “intimidate” those involved in the referendum in hopes of keeping the tax measure off the ballot.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press.All Rights Reserved.)