Unions boost drive for tax plan

A surge of cash contributions from public employee unions is breathing more life into the Measure 30 campaign, enabling a flurry of radio ads to promote the $1.2 billion tax hike on the Feb. 3 ballot.

Campaign finance reports filed Thursday show the Yes on 30 coalition raised $413,000 in the past month, with pledges for another $122,000. More than 80 percent came from a handful of public employee unions, while businesses provided a relatively tiny share.

“We feel very good going into the last couple weeks of the election,” said Morgan Allen, Yes on 30 campaign director. Radio ads started in mid-January and will run right up through the election, Allen said.

In comparison, the opposition campaign raised a modest $99,000 in the past month, with a pledge for another $25,000. Tax-hike supporters need to raise far more cash because they are trailing in polls, said Russ Walker, who led the drive to place the tax hike before voters.

“If I was trying to win, I’d spend more than they’re spending,” said Walker, Northwest director of Citizens for a Sound Economy.

Opponents do not plan any radio or television ads at this point, Walker said, and will concentrate on getting their side to cast ballots in the mail-in election. His campaign has put up some money for road-side signs and mailings.

Measure 30 would enact a three-year income-tax surcharge that taps Oregonians on a sliding scale. A family with a taxable income of $30,000 to $40,000 pays an average of $46 per year, while a family earning $70,000 to $100,000 in taxable income would pay an average of $228.

The measure also would reduce an elderly medical-care tax break, reduce business tax breaks, extend an existing cigarette tax and shrink the discount for advance payment of property taxes.

Lawmakers approved the tax package during the 2003 legislative session to avoid more dramatic cuts to schools and state services. Antitax groups led by Walker easily gathered signatures to put the matter before voters.

If the measure fails, it eliminates nearly 10 percent of the money earmarked for the general fund and other discretionary spending for the rest of the 2003-05 budget cycle. Lawmakers have specified $545 million in automatic cuts. Those are largely targeted toward public schools and the state health plan for the poor, with substantial cuts to state crime labs, colleges, and other selected programs.

To date, Walker’s group has raised about $762,000. The lion’s share of that went to gather signatures to put the tax hike before voters.

Measure 30 supporters started out slowly on the fund-raising front, but now they are catching up. The Yes on 30 coalition has raised $529,000 since the campaign began, with pledges for another $122,000.

“What really matters is your ability to communicate with the general public,” said Bill Lunch, a political scientist at Oregon State University. “That’s enough to buy some radio advertising; it’s not enough for TV.”

Measure 30 supporters acknowledge they face a tough chore convincing Oregonians to raise their own taxes in the midst of a recession. Anti-Measure 30 groups have collected far more small donations than the pro-Measure 30 side.

Lunch noted that a relatively low-budget campaign did surprisingly well in support of Measure 28, a three-year income and corporate tax hike on the ballot last January. At one point, supporters of that measure pulled even in late polling. But that measure ultimately went down by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin.

In addition to the two main political committees, several smaller groups are raising money on both sides of the issue. There also are hundreds of volunteers working phone banks, literature drops and other campaign duties on both sides.

Large donors in the Measure 30 campaign

Contributions from Dec. 19 to Jan. 18

In favor of the tax hike:

AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons): $42,250

American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Council 75: $50,000 plus a pledge for $50,000 more

CareOregon: $5,944

Portland General Electric: $5,000

Oregon Education Association (teachers union): $77,703, plus a pledge for $55,000 more

Oregon School Employees Association: $81,000

Oregonians for Health Security (a labor-funded group): $21,561

Service Employees International Union, Local 503: $105,579

Willamette Dental Management Corp.: $5,000

American Federation of Teachers: $15,000, plus pledged $15,000 more

Opposed to the tax hike:

A-Dec Inc., Newberg dental supply company: pledged $25,000

Wes Lematta and Columbia Helicopters: $30,000

Citizens for a Sound Economy (national arm): $6,245

Steve Law can be reached at (503) 399-6615.