After going on a decade-long spending spree, most state governments have found themselves facing budget crunches in the past couple of years because of the recent recession. Instead of saving for a rainy day, most state legislatures freely spent the large increases in state tax revenues generated by the long ’90s economic expansion. Once the free-spending party ended, state legislatures refused to cut or even freeze spending–they wanted to raise taxes.
Oregon is one state where they tried and failed. “Last night, Oregon voters crushed Measure 30, an effort to raise $1.1 billion in new taxes–an increase that would kill jobs and throttle Oregon’s economic recovery,” announced Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) in triumph February 4 of this year. “Oregon voters rejected Measure 30 by a margin of 59% to 41%. Just five months ago, the Oregon state legislature refused to curb its spending and instead passed $1.1 billion in new taxes. So, Oregon Citizens for a Sound Economy and its allies sprang into action, gathering a record number of signatures to put the issue before state voters. The defeat of Measure 30 built on the successful opposition to Measure 28–another tax increase measure that Oregon voters defeated in January 2003 by a 54%-to-46% vote.”
“The last three years, we’ve been fighting efforts to increase taxes,” said Russ Walker, northwest director of Citizens for a Sound Economy. “In January 2003, we killed Measure 28. On Aug. 21, 2003, a tax increase passed the legislature with one vote in the house. The governor put the squeeze on the three Democrats we had. We lost 11 Republicans. The next day, we started prepping the referendum.”
Anti-tax organizers worked to refer the legislation to a vote of the people. It became Measure 30 and allowed Oregon residents to vote up or down on the tax increase. “We needed 50,000 signatures to get on the ballot. We turned in 148,000 signatures,” said Walker. Meanwhile, efforts by tax hike proponents were underway to “intimidate petition signers,” said Walker. “The voter intimidation project–that’s what we called it–was completely funded by the public employees’ unions.” Intimidators would yell at signers on the street or go inside stores and complain that signature collectors outside were harassing them, said Walker. “About $600,000 was spent on this phase by us,” said Walker. “We got the largest number of signatures ever in Oregon history.”
The campaign to kill Measure 30 began after New Year’s Day, said Walker. “We focused on independents and Multnomah County, which is heavily Democratic,” he said. Portland is located in Multnomah. “We won Multnomah by 18 percentage points,” he said. “Oregon voters are pretty overtaxed. They’re tired of all this liberal crap they’ve had to put up with for decades, on both economic and social issues. Same-sex marriage will be on the ballot.”
“Three cheers to Oregon CSE Director Russ Walker, the volunteers and voters who worked so hard to defeat the Measure 30 tax increase,” said CSE Chairman Dick Armey after the vote. “Oregon has spoken: Elected officials had better listen loud and clear: It is time for government at all levels to live within its means.”
“I think tax increases are over with for the time being in Oregon,” said Walker. Despite the evident popularity of holding the line on taxes even in a liberal state like Oregon, he said, “We could not find any but a handful of politicians to support us on this issue.” Oregon’s Republican senator, Gordon Smith, didn’t take a position, Walker said. He said the vote proved an important thesis: “We can move independents any day of the week, and Democratic males.”
“According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, a 10% increase in the top marginal tax rate reduces small-business hiring by 10.7%. The Oregon Legislative Revenue Office points out that most small businesses in Oregon pay the top personal income-tax rate, which is significantly raised by Measure 30. . .,” wrote Walker in an op-ed for the Oregon Statesman Journal on January 28. “Oregon ranks 42nd among the 50 states in the Small Business Survival Index.”
The next battle for Oregon CSE, said Walker, is to implement a spending cap similar to Colorado’s. “We need to cap the amount the state government can spend,” he said. “There’s also a window of opportunity to dismantle the Oregon health care system. It’s killing our private health care plans. I think it will have to be done through ballot initiative.” Another problem: Some Oregon public schoolteachers get $118,000 annually in pensions, he said.
Oregon CSE may be reached at 3824 River Rd. North #205, Keizer, Ore. 97303 (503-463-9457; e-mail: email@example.com).