Legislators warn of pitfall without taxes

Area legislators predicted Monday at a town hall that revenue-raising ballot measures 66 and 67 would pass if turnout gets above 66 percent and younger voters are lured to the polls, two trends they see happening as the campaign enters its final week.

Sen. Alan Bates and Rep. Peter Buckley, both Democrats, warned that if the measures fail, Oregon's downward spiral in K-12 schools, higher education and public safety would deepen.

At a well-attended gathering Tuesday at the Ashland Elks Lodge, Bates said "we're barely maintaining K-12 funding" and Buckley noted the state is now 47th in funding of higher education.

"It's been cut, cut, cut for the 10 years I've been in the legislature," said Bates.

Bates said he wants to work on a rainy day fund that builds to 5 or 6 percent over budget before the kicker (refund) kicks in, and, if it does, $1 million in costs could be saved by simply applying it to the next year's personal income tax bill.

"In the legislature now, everything's about revenue; policy has become a secondary thing — and Oregon is 44th in total tax collected against income," said Bates. "Until Measure 5 (property tax limitation in 1990), we were 25th."

When one woman spoke against "fat in government" and "pet projects" of legislators that get funded before basic needs, she was shouted down by others who said, "You live in Oregon and need to pay your fair share."

When the woman said "you can't tax your way to prosperity in a recession" and added that measures 66 and 67 would drive away corporations, Buckley retorted that Oregon has the 45th lowest tax rate and, if they pass, would climb only to 45th.

"Yeah, where are they (corporations) going to go?" said another voice in the audience.

"The consequences of the failure of 66 and 67," said Bates, "would be enormous budget cuts "¦ Higher education, human services and K-12 will be fighting each other (for funding). How much do you cut public safety without endangering our society?"

Bates, a physician, added that higher education is our future — and that a decline in health care means more people going to the emergency room, imposing a "silent tax" on those who can afford it.

"People are going to be very upset, very angry (if the measures fail) "¦ We'll have to make very tough decisions," said Bates, "and will be going to communities to learn the best choices open to us."

Both legislators said they favor a ballot measure to legalize, tax and regulate the quality of marijuana, possibly with the state taking over the growing of pot — and both said it would not be a major revenue producer but would remove a big load from the criminal justice system and assure quality marijuana to users.

"We should push forward with legalization and the state growing and selling (to assure quality)," said Buckley. "It's common sense. Prohibition doesn't work."

The industrial hemp industry should also be allowed, said Buckley.

Another big weak spot in state government, said Buckley, is the foster care system, which "is in serious trouble because of inadequately trained people."

The Democratic loss Tuesday of the U.S. Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy, said Buckley, should be read as "like the anger we heard tonight about foreclosure. The people need the federal government to fight for them. It's not clear they've found a way to pull back on Wall Street. These guys (banks) should not be given huge bonuses. It's out of outrage that voters are pushing back."

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