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Measure 30 - What you don't know can hurt you

Vote yes on Measure 30 to protect Oregon.
The Oregonian
01/04/04
 http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/david_sarasohn/index.ssf?/base/editorial/1073135286312871.xml


What you don't know can hurt you

David Sarasohn


Tax: Vote no, more money goes to D.C.

W hat you don't know can hurt you.

And your future.

And Oregon.

Campaigning to get Measure 30 on the ballot, Dick Armey, head of a national antitax group, said of Oregon's budget situation, "I don't need to know that."

As Armey's frank declaration demonstrates, most of the argument about next month's tax-increase vote hasn't been about knowing anything. It's been about ignoring problems, spouting slogans and covering over realities with rhetoric.

Last year's Legislature might never be confused with the Founding Fathers. But it was forced to face Oregon's realities. And after eight months of trying to escape them, legislators from both parties found the temporary tax increase -- which would raise $800 million to balance this biennium's budget -- the only way out.

So the first question might be, what did they know that most Oregonians might not? . The following excerpts from critics writing to The Oregonian connect to realities voters should understand -- even if Dick Armey didn't want to.

1) BUT WAIT! IT'S LESS!

I simply can't afford to pay the extra $300 to $500 a year that this plan means. -- Hood River

Middle-income Oregonians (individuals and joint filers earning $27,000 to $43,000) would pay an average of $81 more a year under Measure 30. To pay an average of $350 a year, taxpayers would have to be in the lower part of the top 20 percent, those earning from $71,000 to $129,000.

That's without the federal tax deduction, which makes the U.S. government pay 15 percent to 30 percent of the increase.

2) MEASURE 30: THE FEDS' FISCAL FRIEND

Just when our economy is beginning to improve, this is not the time to stifle job creation or business expansion by raising taxes. -- Salem

With an uncertain economy, this also might not be the time for Oregon to ship almost half a billion dollars to Washington, D.C. But the cuts enacted by the Legislature, in case Measure 30 doesn't pass, would cause Oregon to lose $198 million in federal matching funds by June 30, 2005, another $84 million in the year after that and an extra $120 million in additional federal income taxes.

Money spent in Oregon, by the state government or consumers, moves the Oregon economy. Money sent to Washington, or money that never gets here from D.C., just moves away.

3) FOOL ME ONCE . . .

If the various state agencies planned properly, failure of the tax increase wouldn't reduce funding. -- Northwest Portland

We heard this assurance last January, on another revenue vote, from many of the same voices now telling us we don't need Measure 30. There was, we were told, plenty of money, and the politicians against a tax increase would tell us where it was right after the election.

But during the 2002-03 school year, 90 Oregon districts had to close early, led by Hillsboro, which cut off 17 school days -- most of a month's schooling. Oregon districts hadn't done that even during the Great Depression, but at least we couldn't complain about a lack of national attention. Kids with closed schools could read about themselves in "Doonesbury."

The same people now assure us there will be no losses if Measure 30 fails.

Coos Bay, which knows something about empty promises, is planning to cut 19 days.

4) THERE'S NEVER A COP AROUND . . .

Be prepared to hear the governor and bureaucrats cry that they will have to cut schools, services to the elderly, police and firefighters; let criminals out of jail; and so on. Don't be fooled into believing that we are not paying our fair share. -- McMinnville

Whatever you consider your fair share, defeat of Measure 30 will be a Get Out of Jail Free card. The defeat will take $58 million from public safety programs, and about $25 million from Corrections.

Last January, when another revenue measure was rejected, Oregon State Police managers laid off 129 sworn officers and 157 others employees. Now, 329 troopers cover the state, half the number Oregon had in the 1960s, when the population was half the current number. The state police would be in line for another cut.

Cuts also include $13 million from courts, possibly keeping them from operating for a full week, and $10 million from indigent defense, meaning lots of people arrested would have to be asked to come back a few months later.

Critics will say these policies are so dangerous they'll never happen, except for one thing:

In 2003, they already did.

5) EXPENSIVE LESSONS

I have gone back to school part time for the last couple of years and have consequently taken a pay cut while paying my tuition out of pocket. -- Hillsboro

Oregonians thinking of saving money for higher education by voting against Measure 30 might not find the tax cut a bargain. As state support of higher education drops, universities and community colleges have been increasing tuition rates and limiting access.

Already, even before the cuts from a defeat of Measure 30, university and community college tuition is up by at least 19 percent. Access to programs is tightening -- Portland Community College is already running long-odds lotteries for admission to necessary classes.

Looking at the tax-increase vote, students and parents know they feel squeezed. The real question is whether they feel lucky.

6) YOU RAISE MY INTEREST . . .

Your editorial "Bad for business" suggested that Oregonians should not have an opportunity to vote on the state's largest-ever tax increase and implied that those who wanted an opportunity to cast a vote on the issue are responsible for the state's recent credit rating downgrade and the flight of industry from the state. Are you serious? -- Southeast Portland

Yep. Wall Street, having been around a while, is not impressed by plans to cut spending. It's impressed by reliable revenue. That's why, after the defeat of an earlier statewide tax vote, followed by more borrowing, Wall Street downgraded Oregon's credit rating last year.

It's why last month, after Californians were congratulating themselves on electing Arnold Schwarzenegger and cutting back their car title taxes, three Wall Street raters downgraded California's bonds to just above junk status.

Oregon -- which like all states issues large amounts of bonds to build highways, bridges and schools -- is headed down the same path. In the short run, estimates state Treasurer Randall Edwards, the cost of a deteriorated credit rating will be tens of millions; in the long run, hundreds of millions.

7) YOU MEAN OTHER STATES PAY TAXES?

The taxes in this state are out of control! Anyone considering moving to Oregon would have to be a "dreamer" to think he could actually afford to live here. -- Troutdale

According to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, Oregon is actually around 39th in state and local tax burden. (It's higher when fees are counted, largely because of increases such as the sharp rise in state university tuition.) Total state and local taxes declined from 10.5 percent of income in 1988-89 to 9.4 percent in 1999-2000.

Everyone, of course, has his own definition of "out of control." To a lot of people -- including businesses thinking about where to locate -- "out of control" might mean a state that can't keep its schools open.

And while there are lots of things about Oregon finances people don't know, Oregon's tendency to shut its schools is something people all over the country -- even if they don't read "Doonesbury" -- do know.

Oregon's new slogan is "We Love Dreamers."

If the tax measure fails, a better one might be "See You in the Funny Papers -- Again."

David Sarasohn, associate editor of The Oregonian: 503-221-8523  davidsarasohn@news.oregonian.com