Sides gear up for tax-increase vote

Gov. Ted Kulongoski said Thursday that he will speak out for the budget-balancing tax increases that the Legislature approved to support schools and state services.

He also said he won’t go it alone in the coming campaign.

“Everybody knows this is not going to be won or lost on one single individual,” Kulongoski said on the day that advocates in the Our Oregon Coalition began their campaign in favor of Measure 30.

“There is a concentrated effort of a number of us working together who are going to be leading the charge. It’s going to be citizens, it’s going to be me, it’s going to be a number of other elected officials.”

Critics of the three-year increases in personal and corporate income taxes have gathered enough signatures to force a statewide election on Feb. 3.

A vote in favor of Measure 30 will uphold the Legislature’s plan; a vote against it will overturn the increases, which raise $800 million to balance the 2003-05 budget.

Unlike a similar measure that a 2002 legislative session referred but voters rejected early this year, the governor and more than 100 organizations are putting their weight behind Measure 30.

“What this measure does is challenge the equation that Oregon is the sum of its children, economy and environment,” Kulongoski said. “It’s about whether citizens are willing to make this investment in our children and schools and the business community.”

Representatives of business, parents and seniors spoke in favor of the measure. They stressed that without the tax plan, more spending cuts would be triggered and the state budget would be out of balance again.

“We cannot recruit or keep businesses in our state if we do not make the choice to provide essential educational services for our employees’ children and basic governmental services for businesses in the community,” said Tom Kelly, president of Neil Kelly Inc. of Portland, who spoke for the Oregon Business Association.

The association earlier this week honored 26 legislators — 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans — for their dual support of the tax increase and a reduction in public-pension obligations.

Among them were Sens. Peter Courtney, D-Salem, Charles Starr, R-Hillsboro, and Jackie Winters, R-Salem, and Reps. Vic Backlund, R-Keizer, Vicki Berger, R-Salem, and Lane Shetterly, R-Dallas.

“Every Oregon child deserves the certainty of a full school year,” said Andi Jordan of Portland, a vice president of the Oregon Congress of Parents and Teachers.

“Every Oregon child deserves the security of classes small enough to get the personal attention they need. Every Oregon child deserves the stability of educational programs that challenge and engage. Every Oregon child deserves a chance to succeed.”

Jerry Cohen, state director for the AARP, said the waves of spending cuts in 2002 and 2003 have affected state-supported health care for the poor and longterm care for older and disabled people. About 80,000 people were in danger of losing all health coverage, and despite some restorations by the 2003 Legislature, more than 4,500 older and disabled people lost care.

“A yes vote is for our certainty and stability today, and our legacy for tomorrow,” he said.

Measure opponents say they plan to see what supporters do before deciding how much of an advertising campaign they will wage against it. One recent public opinion survey indicated support for it as low as 25 percent, and opponents got twice as many signatures as they needed to qualify it for the ballot.

“If it’s unnecessary for us to spend a lot of money, we may not do anything except activate our own troops and have our supporters activate theirs,” said Russ Walker of Keizer, president of the Taxpayer Defense Fund and Oregon director of Citizens for a Sound Economy.

“But if it’s necessary, we’ll run a big campaign. We want to make sure we defeat this tax increase and send a message to legislators and the governor before they go into a special session.”

Lynn Lundquist, president of the Oregon Business Association and a former Republican speaker of the Oregon House, conceded that a campaign for the measure is tough because voters must be persuaded to say yes.

“I believe the only way that is going to happen is that we get a buzz going and get information out about this issue,” he said. “We believe that with the work of these organizations, we are going to get that dialogue going. Once people have the opportunity to ask some questions, it’s a lot easier.

“If we’re going to go to 30-second sound bites, we’re going to lose.”

Peter Wong can be reached at (503) 399-6745.