Tax foes will act if lawmakers fail

Anti-tax advocates say they will increase their efforts to enact a tight new state spending limit if the Legislature’s planned special session about tax reform in June doesn’t produce reforms.

“It’s our No. 1 priority,” said Russ Walker of Citizens for a Sound Economy, which led the effort to defeat the Legislature’s $800 million tax increase in February.

A joint legislative committee that has been looking at various tax proposals for months will meet Thursday, but members of the panel have been unable to reach agreements.

The panel’s co-chairman, Sen. Ryan Deckert, D-Beaverton, said Tuesday that he thinks the special session should be scrapped and the tax-reform issue taken up by the 2005 Legislature, which will convene in January.

Walker said his group is prepared to mount a major lobbying effort to persuade lawmakers to enact a spending limit in January and, if that fails, to launch an initiative campaign for the November 2006 ballot.

“If the Legislature fails to do it, then we will do it,” said Walker, who is the Oregon director of the Washington, D.C.-based organization.

Anti-tax activist Don McIntire isn’t waiting for the Legislature to act. McIntire hopes to begin collecting petition signatures in the next month for a 2006 initiative to limit government spending.

“If the government fails us, then fortunately, we have the ability to fix the problem ourselves,” he said.

McIntire’s proposed initiative is similar to a spending limit approved by Colorado voters in 1992 that limits revenue growth to population growth and inflation, with the surplus returned to taxpayers.

Considered one of the most stringent spending caps in the country, the Colorado law also is seen by Walker as a good model for Oregon to emulate.

Walker said Citizens for a Sound Economy is hoping to bring Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, a longtime supporter of the law, to Oregon this summer to tout the Colorado spending limit.

“Our big problem in Oregon is that we overspent in the 1990s. We spent every dime,” Walker said. “If we had had a good spending limit the past 10 years, we would have had a stronger economy and a sustainable level of government spending without tax increases.”

Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt opposes the spending limits proposed by Walker and McIntire, saying they are aimed at ratcheting down state revenue without regard for the harm to programs and services.

“They want to use an artificial formula to force even further reductions for services that are already underfunded and stretched thin,” Nesbitt said.

Deckert said his committee plans to hear testimony on Thursday from several pollsters who have done surveys about whether people would support stringent new caps on state revenue.

“My gut tells me that Oregonians value their schools and other services and that people will see that these spending limits will strangle those services,” he said.