Reports show tax campaign financing

SALEM — Public employee unions are shouldering most of the costs to sell an $800 million tax increase to voters as the Feb. 3 election draws closer.

On the opposing side, a Washington, D.C., group and several Oregon businesses lead the financing in the campaign to defeat the tax package.

That clash was spelled out in campaign finance reports filed Monday with the state Elections Division. They covered campaign fund raising and spending through Dec. 18, and showed the first detailed financial reports of the campaigns supporting and opposing Measure 30.

The Legislature approved the tax increase during its record-long session in Salem this year as it worked to balance the $11.5 billion state budget for 2003-05. But opponents of the increase quickly collected the signatures needed to refer the legislation on the ballot, setting up the February election.

The campaign reports showed that Yes on 30: For Our Oregon, which supports the tax increase, has raised $101,000.

Its leading contributors are: the Oregon Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, $22,718; the Nurses United and Oregon Public Employees Union political action committees, $20,500 each; and the Oregon School Employees Association, $20,000.

Larger amounts of money are on the way. The OEA has pledged another $75,000, and the OSEA has pledged an additional $80,000, according to the Yes on 30 campaign report.

“A hundred-thousand dollars is a lot of money, but our members understand that the consequences of the failure of Measure 30 for education is something we don’t want to have,” said Tricia Smith, a lobbyist for OSEA, which represents about 20,000 educational assistants, secretaries, bus drivers and other school workers.

The Taxpayer Defense Fund, the lead committee campaigning against the tax increase, has raised $667,000, most of it during the drive to collect signatures to place the tax package on the ballot. The campaign turned in more than 100,000 valid signatures last month, more than twice the number needed.

Oregon Citizens for a Sound Economy and its director, Russ Walker, spearheaded the campaign against the tax package, and its national organization, Citizens for a Sound Economy, has contributed $107,809 to that effort and the petition drive. Walker said money from the national group was originally donated by Oregonians.

Other leading contributors to the campaign against the tax increase include Seneca Sawmill of Eugene, $75,100; A-dec of Newberg and Jeld-Wen of Klamath Falls, $55,100 each; and Goli Ameri for Congress, $54,000.

The next set of campaign finance reports is due Jan. 22, but that’s after the ballots will be mailed to voters beginning Jan. 16.

The tax package on the February ballot includes a three-year temporary income tax surcharge and tax increases for seniors, corporations and property owners. A yes vote lets the tax package take effect; a no vote blocks it.

Walker and other opponents say the state has consistently increased its spending and now needs to focus on reducing spending. They emphasize that increasing taxes will hurt the state’s economic recovery rather than help it.

Supporters of the tax plan say it is needed to preserve schools and other services, and that cuts would be more damaging to the state’s economy than the tax increases. The Legislature specified $545 million in cuts to schools, social services and public safety in the 2003-05 budget if Measure 30 is rejected.

Although the Yes on 30 committee has collected far less money than the tax opponents have raised for the signature drive and campaign, supporters of the tax increase say that is neither surprising nor important. They say they are focusing more than anything on getting the word out about the importance of services that would be cut if the measure failed.

Smith, of the Oregon School Employees Association, said the coalition of groups supporting the tax increase includes the Oregon AARP, Oregon Business Association, Oregon Food Bank, Oregon PTA and various unions and nonprofits. Together, those groups represent 800,000 Oregonians, so supporters are emphasizing word-of-mouth communication with people throughout the state, she said.

“I think that’s where the real important conversations in this campaign will occur,” Smith said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of people working out there to pass Measure 30.”

Kris Kain, president of the Oregon Education Association, said supporters of the Measure 30 campaign haven’t yet decided how much to spend on that effort. So far, no television or radio advertising campaigns are planned, she said.

Dave Hogan: 503-221-8531;