State won’t change tax ballot title

SALEM – State officials are refusing to remove references to budget cuts from the ballot title of a measure to overturn the Legislature’s tax hike package.

Anti-tax activists who are collecting signatures to put the issue to a Feb. 3 statewide vote asked Secretary of State Bill Bradbury this week to reconsider the ballot summary for the proposed measure.

They said the wording, drafted by Attorney General Hardy Myers, should not refer to budget cuts because the tax increase bill itself doesn’t make any cuts.

However, the request for a wording change was rebuffed Thursday by Lynn Rosik, an assistant state attorney general who advises Bradbury’s office on election law disputes.

Rosik said Bradbury has no legal authority to change the ballot title for the tax referendum and that, furthermore, the ballot title should make it clear the budget cuts would occur if voters reject the tax hike.

The Legislature’s tax package, which includes a temporary income tax surcharge, would raise about $800 million to balance the current two-year budget. The tax measure itself doesn’t specify cuts, but a separate budget measure passed by lawmakers would do that if the higher taxes are rejected by voters.

Based on actions of the Legislature, the attorney general’s office wrote a ballot title that says passing the tax measure would avoid cuts and that its failure would trigger $544 million in spending reductions.

Rosik, in a letter sent Thursday to state elections officials, said that language needs to be in the ballot title.

“We believe that it is both appropriate and necessary to address the budget cuts in the ballot title in order to accurately describe the legal effect of the referendum,” the assistant attorney general said.

The leader of the drive to repeal the tax hike said he was disappointed by the state’s refusal to change the ballot title, but he added that he believes voters nonetheless will soundly defeat the tax.

“I don’t think this is going to make much difference at all,” said Russ Walker of Citizens for a Sound Economy. “Most voters recognize that these budget cuts are just threats.”

If the tax plan is defeated by voters, Walker said, the Legislature will find ways to balance the budget without having to make deep cuts in education and other vital services.

Opponents need to collect 50,000 signatures by Nov. 25 to send the tax measure to the Feb. 3 ballot. Walker said this week that he is “very confident” the petition drive will succeed in forcing a statewide vote on the issue.