Legislators disagree over tax measures

MEDFORD — Two Rogue Valley state legislators jousted Monday in a Medford forum over whether two state measures now on the ballot will dig Oregon out of its budget malaise or help bury the state into a deeper and more prolonged recession. State Reps. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, and Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, debated the merits of measures 66 and 67, highlighting deep divisions in how Oregonians view the attempt to balance the state budget with increased taxes on businesses and wealthier residents.

Richardson called the two measures a result of the Oregon Legislature having a "spending problem" that has seen a 37 percent spending increase since 2005, not a revenue problem.

"We should be wise and not feed the beast," Richardson told a packed house at Rogue Community College in Medford. "If you have a drug addict, you don't feed them more drugs. The Oregon Legislature is a drug addict and the drug of choice is money."

Buckley said analysts have estimated that 97.5 percent of Oregonians would not see a tax increase and the average household would see a revenue increase in four years if the two measures pass. Yet everyone would feel the pain of about 5.5 percent cuts to state agency budgets should they fail, Buckley said.

"We have a tough road to get through," said Buckley, who has stumped throughout the Rogue Valley for the measures. "This is the prudent course that has the best chance of boosting Oregon's economy."

Buckley and Richardson voiced their views Monday during a debate hosted by RCC in Medford. The two debated and then fielded questions from an audience that spilled out into an overflow room with television monitors.

Measure 66 raises income taxes for households with incomes of more than $250,000 and singles earning more than $125,000.

Measure 67 seeks to increase corporate taxes three different ways. It hikes the percentage paid on profits for so-called C-corporations, increases the corporate minimum tax from $10 to $150 for S-corporations, LLCs and LLPs, and adds a tax for gross sales for C-corporations.

About two million ballots for the measures have been mailed to voters and they are due back to county elections officials by 8 p.m. Jan. 26.

If passed, they collectively are expected to raise about $727 million to pay for education, public safety and health care.

Buckley and Richardson sparred over the various impacts of adopting or defeating the measures.

Buckley said programs like Head Start and the Oregon Youth Authority would see cuts if the two measures fail. State courts likely would shut down one day a week and prison inmates would get earlier releases should the measures not pass.

"There is nothing off the table should these measures fail," Buckley said.

Richardson said no specific program cuts have been identified should voters say no.

"We should look through the smoke and mirrors," he said.

Richardson called the measures the result of "class envy" and that taxing business owners and investors would chill an already cold economy and ultimately harm working Oregonians.

"There is a consequence to real people if these pass," he said. "We're all in this together."

Buckley told the audience that the notion of the state sending businesses and wealthy people a don't-come-here message by passing these measures amounted to "rhetoric to incite anger in you."

"I sincerely believe these are the best measures for the state of Oregon," Buckley said.

Monday's event was organized by Rogue Community College's Associated Student Government at the college's Riverside campus.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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