Measure 30 vote may be closer than expected

SALEM — With just four days until the Feb. 3 special election, the gap has narrowed between those who favor and oppose the Measure 30 tax referendum, the leader of the opposition effort said Friday.

Russ Walker, Northwest director for Citizens for a Sound Economy, still predicts the $800 million tax proposal is headed for defeat Tuesday. But he said foes were concerned enough to open campaign coffers in the final days.

That’s a reversal from just a week ago, when he said opponents weren’t going to waste money to defeat a ballot measure that was destined to lose anyway. “I think it will be closer than some people expected,” he said Friday.

Neither side has released any recent polling data, but both campaigns are mounting last-minute pushes to encourage their presumed allies to vote.

So you could expect a letter, phone call or a knock on the door this weekend.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all,” said Debbie Dorris, spokeswoman for the Yes on 30: For Our Oregon campaign. “We’re certainly doing our part so people know the reasons to support Measure 30.”

Meanwhile, both campaigns continued to solicit donations and spend money in the past week, based on supplemental disclosures filed Friday with the state Elections Division.

Labor unions continued to be the biggest contributors to the campaign to pass the measure, while Washington, D.C.-based Citizens for a Sound Economy poured more money into the anti-Measure 30 campaign.

The donations of more than $14,000 this week from the conservative-leaning group comes on top of $37,000 sent earlier.

In addition, two Portland-area Republican candidates for Congress, Goli Ameri and Jim Zupancic, dipped into their campaign funds to pay for Internet and radio ads and auto-dial phone calls critical of the possible tax hikes.

Ameri ponied up more than $18,000 and Zupancic spent $3,590, according to the disclosures. Walker also sent out a fund-raising letter this week.

The union contributions, which totaled roughly $16,000 this week, were in the form of donated staff time and equipment. Walker said the margin has narrowed since a December poll that showed a 11-point spread between likely “yes” and “no” voters. At that time, 49 percent said they would vote against it and 38 percent said they favored the measure.

He now expects to see a defeat similar to that of the Measure 28 income tax proposal, which failed a year ago, 54-to-46 percent.

The opposition campaign has bought its first newspaper ad, is sending direct mail pieces and is focusing on getting likely “no” voters to turn in their ballots, including many people who signed petitions to force the referendum, Walker said.

“We’ve raised the money and we’ll spend what we have,” he said.

Measure 30 lets the public decide whether to enact a $800 million package of revenue hikes passed by the Legislature last year to balance the 2003-05 budget.

The linchpin is a three-year income tax hike similar to one enacted in the early 1980s recession to maintain state programs and schools.

If Measure 30 passes, it also would reduce discounts for paying property taxes on time, decrease medical-related tax deductions for upper-income senior citizens and increase the minimum annual taxes paid by corporations. Those minimum taxes are now $10.

The ballot measure also would maintain a current 10-cent-a-pack tax on cigarettes, which is used to help pay for the Oregon Health Plan.

Because lawmakers anticipated the money when they passed the budget, it means agencies will need to cut spending accordingly if it fails.

The biggest cutbacks would be to public schools, which would be forced to reduce staff and cut academic days, and the health plan, which could end coverage for tens of thousands of needy people. Universities, community colleges, parole offices and police forensic labs also would receive less state money.

Proponents say those impacts are too deep and would hurt the state’s quality of life.

“The reduction in services is more painful than the increase in taxes, that’s the only way you can put it,” Lynn Lundquist, the director of the Oregon Business Association, said in an earlier interview.

Opponents, on the other hand, say taxes are already high enough and that state government needs to survive with less and eliminate unnecessary programs and waste.

They also say the tax hikes would be bad for business in a state where the jobless rate is among the nation’s worst.

“The bottom line is that during a time when the economy is trying to recover, we need more money in the people’s pockets,” said Rep. Tim Knopp, R-Bend.

James Sinks can be reached at 503-566-2839 or at