Spending limit eyed for fall ballot – or session

SALEM, Ore. — Anti-tax activists have filed a proposed initiative measure to ask voters this November to clamp a tight limit on state government spending.

But the activists, including Russ Walker of Citizens for a Sound Economy, concede there might not be enough time for a signature gathering campaign and they might urge the Legislature to take up the issue.

And, in fact, some lawmakers are circulating a plan for a June special session that combines a new spending limit with creation of a rainy day fund to protect schools and other programs from cuts in future downturns.

The initiative was filed by anti-tax advocates Don McIntire and Jason Williams to create a new spending limit to replace the current one that’s tied to Oregonians’ income. They say the current limit is so loosely drawn that it doesn’t really curtail state spending.

McIntire and Williams are being joined in the initiative effort by Walker, whose group led the campaign that referred the Legislature’s $800 million tax increase to the Feb. 3 ballot, where it was soundly defeated by voters.

“We view this spending limit as the solution to the state’s money problems, because politicians will spend every dime they are given,” said Walker, who is Oregon director of Citizens for a Sound Economy.

The proposed initiative would limit state spending to the percentage change in inflation plus the percentage change in population growth.

Any override of the limit would require a two-thirds vote from both the House and the Senate and the approval of Oregon voters in a statewide election.

Walker said that because sponsors don’t have an approved ballot title yet, it’s going to be difficult to gather the 100,000 petition signatures that would be needed by the July 2 deadline.

For that reason, Walker said he and the other sponsors are hoping the Legislature might take up the issue when it convenes a special session in June to discuss tax reform.

Key Republicans in both the House and Senate said Tuesday they are circulating a plan that would impose a new state spending limit.

“There appears to be growing momentum for this on the House side,” said Charles Deister, spokesman for House Speaker Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village.

Under the proposal, some of the revenue that’s collected by the state beyond the spending limit would go into a rainy day fund and the rest would go to provide income tax “kicker” refunds to taxpayers.

Sen. Ted Ferrioli, the Senate’s second-ranking leader and a member of the Joint Tax Reform Committee, said he thinks combining a spending limit with a new rainy day fund has a lot of merit.

“We’re not going to do a sales tax, and I know we are not going to send another tax increase to voters,” the John Day Republican said. “So about the only thing we can do is a rainy day fund and a spending limit.”

Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s spokeswoman, Mary Ellen Glynn, said the governor strongly supports creation of a rainy day fund as a hedge against future economic downturns.

However, the Democratic governor isn’t ready to sign up for a new spending limit proposal, Glynn said.

“There’s tons of talk about this around the Capitol at this point,” she said. “But the governor isn’t committing to anything right now.”

Walker said, however, that Citizens for a Sound Economy is prepared to take the issue directly to voters — either this fall or in November 2006 — if the Legislature doesn’t act.

“If they are unwilling to work with us, then we will go forward with a spending limit initiative that won’t have a rainy day fund built into it,” he said.