Antitax group joins petition drive for anti-SAIF measure

A group best known in Oregon for its antitax campaigns is helping with the ballot initiative effort to abolish SAIF Corp., the state-owned workers’ compensation insurer.

Citizens for a Sound Economy has a credo of smaller government as well as lower taxes, and that fits well with the drive to get the state out of the insurance business, Oregon director Russ Walker said Monday.

The organization leading the petition to put the anti-SAIF measure on the November ballot, Oregonians for Accountability, mailed letters signed by Walker and under his group’s letterhead last week.

The mailings included a petition for recipients to use to gather signatures.

“We stood shoulder to shoulder to fight the largest tax increase in Oregon’s history,” Walker’s letter begins, referring to the voters’ defeat of an $800 million tax increase Feb. 3.

Walker’s organization mounted a referendum drive that put the Legislature’s tax increase on the ballot and led the campaign to defeat it.

His letter says that help is needed in a new fight “for smaller and more accountable government,” and that doing away with SAIF would stimulate private-insurer competition.

“To us, it’s fairly simple,” Walker said. “We believe in markets.”

SAIF, a former state agency, became a public, nonprofit corporation in 1980. It is run by a board of directors appointed by the governor.

Pat McCormick, spokesman for the campaign to defeat the anti-SAIF measure if it makes the ballot, said workers’ compensation insurance is not an area of expertise for Walker’s group.

“They don’t offer anything of substance to the debate,” McCormick said.

She said the company has shown that government can operate successfully like a business because it has boosted its share of the workers’ compensation market in the past 10 years while reducing staff payroll.

SAIF backers also argue that its size and favorable rates spur competition among all insurers, holding down premium costs.

“You may reduce the size of government and increase costs to Oregon’s employers, and do serious damage to Oregon’s economy,” McCormick said.

Walker said that about 100,000 letters with the SAIF initiative petition were mailed, mostly to people who signed the antitax petition and others on Citizens for a Sound Economy’s membership rolls.

Oregonians for Accountability has mounted a major advertising campaign urging voters to sign the petitions.

The group faces a July 2 deadline for submitting the 75,000 signatures needed to put the proposal on the ballot. Backers say they have that many in hand and are gathering more for a cushion against invalid signatures.