Tax foes prepare to bite back

When Multnomah County voters approved a temporary county income tax last May, tax opponents waged almost no organized campaign to fight it.

It will be different this time, said anti-tax activists, some of whom circulated a petition that will put a proposed repeal of the tax on the county ballot in November.

Anti-tax activist Don McIntire’s political action committee filed a report with the Multnomah County Elections Office on Wednesday showing it had raised about $25,000 to begin its campaign against the tax.

Meanwhile, the head of the Oregon chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy — a national anti-tax group that raised its profile in Oregon by helping defeat a statewide tax increase referendum in February — said his group will provide significant fund-raising and campaign help to the tax repeal proponents.

“I don’t suspect it will be like the last time,” Russ Walker, head of the Oregon chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy, said of the low-level campaign against the Multnomah County income tax in May. “Part of our goal would be to raise as much money as we can to fight this battle. We think it’s very important that … this repeal succeeds.”

The three-year, temporary county income tax won approval from 58 percent of county voters in May 2003. About 70 percent of tax revenues — forecast at about $115 million for last year — goes to county school districts. Some of those districts had been contemplating cutting weeks off the school year last year to deal with state budget cuts. The rest of the county tax money goes to county public safety and elderly and disabled programs, and for the administration of the tax.

McIntire said that tax opponents “were resigned to our fate” before the May tax election. But after the election, he said, he began hearing complaints from people, including tax supporters, about how much they were having to pay for the county tax.

“Everyone who called us was shocked by the size of their tax bill,” he said, adding that it made gathering signatures relatively easy.

Neither McIntire nor Walker would say how much money they hope to raise for the campaign to support the tax repeal. Walker said he doesn’t believe the anti-tax campaign will need to match what tax supporters raise for their campaign. Tax proponents raised more than $700,000 for their May campaign.

“A lot of times we’re outspent in our campaigns,” Walker said. “We think our message is one that appeals to people more than the message the other side has, which is to scare people and tell them the world is going to fall apart if they don’t keep taxes up.”

Liz Kaufman, a Portland political consultant who will manage the anti-repeal campaign, said campaign officials and volunteers from schools, social services agencies and elsewhere will meet next month to begin work on the campaign.

“We’re convening what we call our big-table coalition … and they’re all local people who have something at stake,” she said, referring to Citizens for a Sound Economy.

The campaign so far has raised about $80,000 in contributions and commitments to contribute, she said.

“This tax is certainly a burden. We understand that,” Kaufman said. But the alternative of schools ending their years shortly after spring break and social service agencies severely cutting budgets are “more costly than this investment we’re asking people to make,” she said.

She said it’s “hard to guess” whether the vote on the repeal will be closer than the May vote. “The great thing about Election Day is you don’t have to win 58 percent of the vote,” she said. “You just have to win 50 percent plus one.”