State Supreme Court modifies tax ballots slightly

PORTLAND — Supporters of a $733 million tax package aimed at corporations and wealthy Oregonians say they are pleased with an Oregon Supreme Court ruling that made only slight changes in ballot measure wording.

Opponents of the tax increase the Legislature approved last summer gathered enough signatures to force a referendum vote in a January special election.

Pat McCormick, spokesman for Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, also went to court to challenge the wording, arguing it was biased in favor of the tax increase because it described the potential impact on education, public safety and health care.

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that only minor changes in the wording were required. One change replaced the word "maintain" with the word "provide" in phrases that had said "to maintain funds currently budgeted for education, health care, public safety, other services."

Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, praised the ruling and called the lawsuit frivolous.

"By leaving that language intact and merely changing the word 'maintains' to 'provides,' the court has said it is proper to include those effects to education and other services within the ballot title," Hunt said Friday.

The court also ordered another change. Instead of "reduces funding currently budgeted for education, health care, public safety, other services," the ballots will say "leaves amount currently budgeted for education, health care, public safety, other services underfunded."

Hunt said supporters had been confident the Oregon Supreme Court would uphold the ballot titles as being fair, impartial and accurate. "It is clear from the minor changes made that the justices agreed," Hunt said.

McCormick said the objections that he and other opponents raised to the language still stand.

"While the modification makes a marginal improvement, we still think these are drafted in a way that would lead most voters to conclude that a more positive vote on this is the preferred alternative," McCormick said.

He said opponents would run a vigorous campaign before the Jan. 26 election "to ensure that people get an accurate understanding of what the impacts of these measures are."

A Marion County judge is expected to rule soon on a separate lawsuit filed by opponents challenging the process for drafting the ballot titles and explanatory statements.

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