Ballots going out for tax hike referendum

With the ballots soon to arrive in voters’ mailboxes, the “Yes on 30” campaign has begun running radio ads urging Oregonians to approve the Legislature’s $800 million tax hike.

The ad features the voice of a Hillsboro woman, Susan Hoffman, whose three sons attend Hillsboro public schools, where the school year was shortened by 17 days last year because of budget cuts.

“We’ve lost great teachers, our classes are getting even bigger, and now we’re faced with even more cuts,” Hoffman says in the ad.

The ad campaign comes as local election offices around Oregon are preparing to begin sending out more than 1.8 million mail ballots to voters Friday for the Feb. 3 election.

The Legislature passed the $800 million tax hike last August in hopes of averting cuts to schools, public health and other services. But anti-tax activists gathered enough signatures to force the issue to a vote.

Morgan Allen, spokesman for the Yes on 30 campaign, said no TV ads are planned at this point.

“We’ve been able to raise enough money to buy a three-week statewide radio campaign,” Allen said.

The state director of the anti-tax campaign, Russ Walker of Citizens for a Sound Economy, said the better-funded opposition campaign is holding off for now on purchasing TV or radio advertising.

Walker conceded that that’s partly because public opinion polls have shown fairly strong opposition to the tax increase, which critics say is excessive and would hinder economic recovery in Oregon.

But he added that tax opponents don’t want to appear overconfident and that the campaign is working to encourage voter participation.

“This is not a done deal. We want to make sure our people show up to vote and we want to get our message out to undecided voters,” he said.

Aside from its implications for the state’s finances, the Feb. 3 vote is noteworthy because it will mark the first “chad-free” election in Oregon.

In September, Secretary of State Bill Bradbury urged the three last counties in Oregon still using error-prone punch-card ballots to move to other voting systems in time for the tax election.

All those counties — Clackamas, Lane and Washington — now are using systems in which voters fill in ballots with a pen, similar to a standardized test, Bradbury said this week.

The optical machines used to tally those ballots count slower, but elections officials say they are more accurate because they eliminate the possibility of “hanging chads” that caused so many problems in Florida’s disputed 2000 presidential election.

“No Oregonian will ever again use a punch-card to cast a ballot in an Oregon election,” Bradbury said.