January 4, 2004
Governor prepares to stump for tax hike
By Charles Beggs
The Associated Press
SALEM - Gov. Ted Kulongoski says he's ready to hit the road this month to campaign for a tax increase he was far from wild about when lawmakers passed it last summer.
``I didn't like it,'' Kulongoski said. ``I said at the time that I signed it that this was the last resort.''
But, ``I do support it and I'm going to do what I can to see that it gets passed,'' he said.
Voters will decide in a Feb. 3 mail election whether to boost taxes to generate $800 million to balance the current two-year state budget.
Neither side has done much, if any, visible campaigning since opponents turned in enough referendum petition signatures in November to send the measure to the voters.
Most of the measure's revenue would come from a three-year income tax surcharge yielding $544 million for the two-year budget.
The surcharge would be dropped in the third year if the economy improves enough to increase tax collections by a given amount.
The tax would cost a household with $42,000 annual income about $36 a year. That was the state's median income last year.
The tax boost may sound small. But Kulongoski acknowledges he's got a hard sell in asking Oregonians to pay any more taxes as the state climbs slowly of a recession.
And he said voters may not have focused on the stakes.
``You've got to get this thing in a framework that people are listening,'' he said. ``I'm not sure they're there yet, given a variety of national and international issues. It's going to be very, very hard.''
He said he is keeping a flexible January schedule so he can stump across the state.
With the election deadline just a month away and ballots going into the mail in two weeks, tax backers likely face rough sledding.
Polls indicate most voters oppose the increase, just as they did last Jan. 28 when they defeated a $310 million budget-balancing tax measure.
Our Oregon Coalition, the main group backing Measure 30, boasts of dozens of groups joining in the effort. But it's unclear how the campaign will be conducted and whether there will be enough money for a major advertising effort.
``It's hard to say what we'll end up doing,'' said Morgan Allen, coalition director. ``We've got a really good cross section of groups. Add up their members and it comes to about 800,000 people.''
He said the organization had $220,000 on hand at the end of December. A big media campaign often can cost $1 million.
The governor gave lukewarm support to the tax increase after fellow Democrats in the Legislature garnered enough moderate Republican votes to pass the measure in August and end a record-length session.
Kevin Mannix, state Republican Party chairman, said Kulongoski is saying ``the devil made him do it.''
Mannix narrowly lost the governor's race to Kulongoski last year and hasn't ruled out another try in 2006. He's active in the fight against the tax.
``The governor ought to campaign for it because it's what he wanted. It helps him avoid the responsibility of reforming government,'' Mannix said.
He insists lawmakers could do far more to streamline government operations, but lack the courage to do so.
Kulongoski doesn't see his political stature riding on the tax vote, one way or the other.
``Whether in fact there's political stock in this or against it, I don't see it that way,'' he said. ``I think when you look at what I've done as governor in one year it is far beyond a vote on Feb. 3., it's a much broader message that I've had.''
Kulongoski pointed to his successful push for a $2.5 billion road and bridge improvement program that was passed by lawmakers and his steps to make state government more efficient.
He said he's just one element in the campaign for the tax measure that he said has to involve many others.