Health crisis feared if tax hike repealed

SALEM, Ore. – Health care activists are criticizing “out-of- state petitioners” who are trying to repeal the Legislature’s tax hike, saying that 60,000 low- income Oregonians could lose health insurance if the tax is overturned. Further, they said, repeal would end nutrition, transportation and home care services for many elderly and disabled people while chopping funding for community mental health crisis services.

“The health of Oregonians and the stability of our economy are in jeopardy,” said Elizabeth Byers of the Oregon Health Action Campaign.

Byers and others conducted a news conference to urge Oregonians not to sign petitions being circulated by Citizens for a Sound Economy.

Their mention of the “out-of-state” interests waging the anti- tax campaign refers to the fact that Citizens for a Sound Economy is based in Washington, D.C., and has hired a California company to gather signatures.

Sponsors of the anti-tax drive have expressed confidence they will gather the 50,000 signatures they need by the Nov. 25 deadline to force a Feb. 3 special election on the tax issue.

The Legislature’s tax package, which includes a temporary income tax surcharge, would raise about $800 million to balance the current two-year budget without having to cut education or social programs.

The tax measure itself doesn’t specify cuts, but a separate budget measure passed by lawmakers would do that if the higher taxes are rejected by voters.

Health care activists said that would translate to more than $200 million being slashed from the Oregon Health Plan, which provides health coverage for thousands of the “working poor.”

That would mean kicking as many as 60,000 people off the Health Plan mostly single adults in low-paying jobs who don’t qualify for traditional Medicaid coverage.