‘Hidden millions’ sounds like the old ploy

There’s an old chestnut in political circles about last-minute election tactics: In the tense final days of big campaigns, campaign directors send out teams of volunteers to ride crowded elevators and start rumors about the opposing candidate in hopes of swaying undecided voters. It didn’t matter whether the rumors were true. The goal wasn’t truth, it was getting votes.

It seems that Russ Walker, the Oregon director of Citizens for a Sound Economy, has been doing the equivalent. He said on a Portland radio station that there’s a $500 million pool of money that Gov. Ted Kulongoski is going to pull out of his back pocket if Measure 30 fails.

Walker said he heard this from a legislator, but he wouldn’t name him.

The 11th hour of any campaign is typically the time for last-minute tactics, even though polls indicate Measure 30’s likely defeat.

Walker and his anti-tax forces have nothing to lose by floating a rumor that there is $500 million out there that the state is hiding from the electorate in hopes of getting approval to levy $800 million more in taxes over two years.

They can rely on cynicism to dismiss Kulongoski’s flat assurance that no, there is no such money. Indeed, the idea that such money exists, but that the Legislature somehow overlooked it in the eight months of wrestling with the 2003-05 budget, is ludicrous.

Human Services Director Jean Thorne said her department was trying to spread and shift about $28 million to cover the medical services to the most vulnerable elderly and disabled Oregonians.

By preparing for the possibility that Measure 30 may fail, Thorne is risking having some say, “Aha… see! The state can manage if Measure 30 is defeated.”

To simply let the budget ax start swinging is to risk the repeat of cases such as that of Douglas Schmidt, the Portland man who, denied his $400-a-month anti-seizure medication in an ill-considered round of budget cutting in February, ended up last March in an irreversible coma. He died in November, 46 hours after being removed from life support.

It’s easy to start a rumor that can’t be substantiated in hopes that it sways the undecided. It’s harder to deal with the real-life consequences of it.

In this case, let’s hope the consequence is that last-minute undecided voters are skeptical enough about this rumor to approve the modest Measure 30 tax increase that would restore the state’s fiscal health.

Theresa Novak is the editorial page editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times.