Oregon Conservatives Defeat Tax Hike

“Voters Trounce Measure 30,” said the February 4 headline of the Portland Oregonian. Following a campaign of little more than a month, just about every Oregonian knew what Measure 30 was: a ballot initiative for an $800-million tax increase backed by Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski and enacted by the state legislature last year with no public hearings.

Despite Kulongoski’s support, and the support of most Democratic elected officials, voters defeated Measure 30 by 59% to 41%. In fact, anti-tax forces even took Multnomah County–home of liberal Portland, a traditional Democratic stronghold–by 55% to 45%.

Veteran Oregonian columnist Tim Hibbitts concluded: “After having passed three property tax increases in the fall of 2002 that sent property taxes up close to 10% and a local income tax that is effectively a double-digit percentage income tax increase for county taxpayers, it is no surprise voters have hit the wall on further tax increases.”

“When the economy is bad,” said Multnomah County GOP Chairman Tim Nashif, “liberals become conservative.”

In a state that has become increasingly Democratic and liberal in recent years, the defeat of Measure 30 is solid evidence that–contrary to what Democrats and some Republicans in Congress claimed in opposing President Bush’s tax cuts–the anti-tax movement is still what author M. Stanton Evans characterized as “the gold standard of politics” a generation ago.

Led by State Chairman Kevin Mannix, the Oregon Republican Party did mass mailings in the effort to defeat Measure 30. Now, a growing number of Republicans feel that the movement generated by the initiative may help put Oregon’s electoral votes in the GOP column for the first time in 20 years and also could help unseat Kulongoski in 2006.

This taxpayer revolt was spawned last summer when, without hearings, the legislature voted for Kulongoski’s package of raising seven different taxes, including a drastic cutting of deductions for medical expenses for senior citizens. Although Republicans control the state House by a margin of 35-to-25 seats and are tied with Democrats in the Senate with fifteen seats each, the tax increase passed with the vote of every Democrat and only a handful of GOP defectors.

Immediately, a coalition of conservative organizations led by Russ Walker of the Oregon Citizens for Sound Economy began laying the groundwork to defeat the tax increases at the ballot box. Oregon law required 52,000 signatures from voters to place the question of a tax increase on the state ballot. In just six weeks, the “No” forces gathered more than 147,000.

Led by Walker, volunteers from groups such as the Oregon Family Council and the Oregon Taxpayers Association began canvassing voters, attending town meetings, and writing “Letters to the Editor.” Lars Larson of KXL in Portland and other talk show hosts helped to mobilize the anti-tax forces.

With Democrats in Salem still reeling from the unexpected landslide defeat of Measure 30, Republicans are now stepping up pressure on Kulongoski to balance the state budget by cutting non-essential public employees. The problem with that, said Tim Nashif, “is that he doesn’t consider any of them non-essential because they all vote Democratic.”