Although most press attention focused on the seven Presidential primary elections taking place on February 3, the biggest political win on that date did not belong to John Kerry.
“The biggest victory belongs to Oregon taxpayers, who defeated a massive $800 million tax hike at the ballot box by 60 to 40 percent,” said Sandra Fabry, spokesperson for Americans for Tax Reform, in a February 4 news release. “Their message to Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) and the state legislature: Don’t even think about raising taxes.”
In August 2003, the state legislature passed a massive tax increase, HB 2151, without public hearings and little debate. Voters nevertheless had the final say, when a referendum aimed at repealing the tax hike, Measure 30, was rejected on February 3.
The referendum process, adopted in Oregon in 1902, allows citizens to take any specific item of legislation passed during the legislative session and place it on a ballot for Oregon voters to make the ultimate decision. Measure 30 was a vote to overturn part of the $1.1 billion in tax hikes included in HB 2151.
“I couldn’t be happier about the results,” stated Russ Walker, director of Oregon Citizens for a Sound Economy and chief petitioner for Measure 30. “When we set out to put Measure 30 on the ballot five months ago, we knew that Oregonians were against these tax increases.”
“Raising taxes during a recession is simply bad economics. Oregon’s families will now be able to spend or invest that money in the best way possible for their quality of life,” said Roger King, a Medford resident and active volunteer in defeating Measure 30.
State Rep. Linda Flores (R-Clackamas County), who pushed during the 2003 legislative session for requiring state government to examine core functions and prioritize when setting budgets, was also pleased with the referendum’s results. “Now I hope we can truly dive into the discussion of putting our most essential services such as education, health care, and public safety, to the forefront of the budgeting process instead of holding them hostage in debates over tax increases.”
Flores continued, “There is a clear lack of trust among the people toward the way government spends their money. With the lack of effort on the part of many in Salem to find efficiencies and make government more lean, I can’t say that I blame them.”
“The margin of defeat is larger than expected,” said Kevin Mannix, state chairman of the Republican Party and opponent of the tax package.
Enough Is Enough
Rejection of the tax increase will trigger $544 million in automatic spending cuts on May 1. The referendum vote suggests Oregon taxpayers dislike higher taxes more than spending cuts.
“Enough is enough,” said Oregon commercial fisherman Terry Hardy. “The most essential things they threaten to cut, instead of the fat. I’m so taxed out now.”
Writing in the February 4 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, , political analyst Jim Moore said the vote showed Oregonians “weren’t swayed” by warnings that schools and other services would suffer big cuts without the tax increase. “People are suspicious of government, and they simply weren’t buying the doom and gloom thing,” Moore wrote.
Debbie Dorris, a backer of the tax increase, said she thinks some voters have simply “tuned out” the seemingly endless debate over the state’s budget crisis. “People are pretty fatigued over the whole issue,” Dorris said.
In January 2003, Oregon voters rejected Measure 28, a $313 million tax increase proposal. Even after that clear expression of their constituents’ will, the legislature passed, with significant bipartisan support, a tax hike more than twice as big as the one rejected in January 2003, increasing seven different taxes. The bill passed late in the session, the result of legislative tinkering that stripped a related bill of all its contents and inserted the tax hike language.
A National Trend
“The national trend against tax hikes is finally solidified at the state level,” said taxpayer advocate Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) in Washington, DC. “With this Congress and President Bush, tax hikes in Washington are dead before the words are even uttered. And with massive taxpayer victories in Alabama, California, and now Oregon, the national consensus against tax increases is firming up even in liberal states.”
In California, tax and budget issues led to the demise of former Gov. Gray Davis (D) and the rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). In Alabama, voters defeated Republican Gov. Bob Riley’s tax hike by an overwhelming 68-32 percent vote.
“Ninety five percent of Republicans in the U.S. House have sworn against tax increases,” continued Norquist. “Eighty-five percent of Republican Senators have, as well as President Bush. In the states, roughly 25 percent of Republicans have signed ATR’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge against tax hikes. As voters continue to tell their elected leaders to not even think about raising taxes, the ranks of taxpayer advocates in the nation’s legislatures will continue to grow.”
Jonathan Collegio is director of communications for Americans for Tax Reform. His email address is email@example.com.