Oregonians sound off on state revenue plan

Statesman Journal

(c) Copyright 2003, Statesman Journal. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Legislature; C

It didn’t take long for Oregonians to speak out for, and against, the revenue package passed Wednesday by the House and Tuesday by the Senate.

And it didn’t take long for the first threat of going to voters in 2004 to repeal the revenue package.

The House approved the package, which raises $1.26 billion in new revenue, by the narrowest of margins about 4 p.m. Within half an hour, Citizens for a Sound Economy was promising to take the package to voters – even as Gov. Ted Kulongoski promised to sign it into law.

“It’s irresponsible,” said Russell Walker, Northwest director for the nationwide anti-taxation group. “It will exacerbate the economy.”

He said he hopes to have the issue on a ballot by February or March.

Associated Oregon Industries sounded off, too.

“Oregon continues to have the weakest economy in the Northwest,” said Joe Schweinhart, an AOI lobbyist. “We should not be taking dollars that could stimulate the economy away from the consumers.”

But others reacted in favor of the revenue package.

Toni Anderson of the Central Oregon Battering and Rape Alliance in Bend praised the package, which, among other things, will fund an account that pays for counselors and advocates for survivors of abuse and rape.

“It’s really hard to do local fund raising in rural Oregon. We’re extremely dependent on (the state). This budget will mean a couple more hours on duty for an assault advocate in John Day or in Prineville,” she said. “It’s tremendous news.”

The revenue package is a mixed bag for Phil McCorkle, development program manager for Marion-Polk Food Share, which provides food for needy families.

“It’s a Catch-22,” he said: Raising income taxes will be a burden on Oregon, which has had one of the highest levels of unemployment for more than a year, as well as the highest levels of hunger in the nation. But the additional taxes will go, in part, toward Human Services programs that benefit those same needy families.

McCorkle said the number of people turning to the Food Share rose by 19 percent between 2001-02 and 2002-03. “Our fiscal year started in July, so it’s too early to say, but it looks like the increase continues,” he said.

For Kay Baker, superintendent of the Salem-Keizer School District, Wednesday’s news was anything but ambiguous – the revenue package will mean more money to a district struggling with the cuts of 2002-03.

She estimated that it will mean an additional $4 million per year for the first two years. That money will go toward literacy programs in the elementary schools, programs for struggling readers in the middle schools and a similar program for grades six through 10. She also will recommend more programs for students learning to speak English, as well as bilingual counselors and teacher-leaders in each school to help English-language learners.

“We’ll focus on exactly what we need to be doing,” she said.

But good news for a school district was bad news for Crystal Sparkowich, the mother of four from Aumsville. She is a stay-at-home mom who home-schools the children. Her husband makes more than $75,000 per year, which means they’ll take a tax hit of about $214 per year.

“I’m for a good state, but I don’t think this is the way to go about it,” said Sparkowich, who took the day off to protest outside the Capitol. “I don’t see how making people pay more taxes … is going to help our state.”

Dana Haynes can be reached at (503) 589-6903 or dhaynes@ StatesmanJournal.com