Foes of Oregon Tax Surcharge Have Signatures to Force Vote on Repeal

SAN FRANCISCO – Opponents of an income tax surcharge that was key to balancing Oregon’s current budget announced they have more than enough signatures to force a vote on repealing the surcharge.

Challengers marched into the secretary of state’s office in Salem with more than 145,000 signatures on Tuesday, the deadline to submit petitions challenging the tax-surcharge bill. Only 50,425 valid signatures are needed to force a Feb. 3 referendum on the tax.

“This had to be the easiest job on the planet — to collect signatures from people who don’t want more taxes,” Russ Walker, chief petitioner for the campaign, said in a prepared statement.

He heads the Oregon branch of Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Washington, D.C.-based anti-tax lobbying group that organized the campaign.

The secretary of state’s office has until Dec. 9 to verify the signatures.

The Legislature approved the tax bill in August after eight months of haggling over a budget in the midst of a recession that gave Oregon the nation’s highest unemployment rate.

Several Republicans in both houses crossed the aisle to join Democrats in supporting the surcharge, which is designed to raise $800 million over three years. The GOP has a majority in the House, and the Senate is split 15 to 15.

Voters rejected a similar temporary tax hike in January, and legislators built in automatic cuts that take effect if voters reject new taxes again in February.

The cuts include $400 million from local school aid and the removal of more than 60,000 people from the Oregon Health Plan who are not part of the federal Medicaid mandate.

All three major rating agencies downgraded Oregon during 2003, citing the economic downturn and an inherently unstable tax and revenue structure that features an income tax but no sales tax.