Tax measure campaigns top $8 million

PORTLAND — With less than two weeks to go before a special election, more than $8 million has already gone into the political battle over a pair of tax measures that would boost rates for corporations and wealthy Oregonians.

Led by contributions from organized labor, supporters have raised more than $4.5 million for their campaign to pass Measures 66 and 67.

But business interests opposed to the increases have kept pace, with nearly $4 million so far, according to the Oregon Secretary of State's office.

Both sides expect to spend heavily on TV ads in the final days before the Jan. 26 referendum election asking voters to decide whether a $727 million tax package approved by the 2009 Legislature should take effect.

County election offices have already begun shipping about 2 million mail ballots to households for a vote on two opposing messages: Create new jobs or save public services.

Pat McCormick of Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, the group leading the opposition to the measures, said Oregon businesses need that money to create jobs during one of the nation's worst recessions.

"More Oregonians report having themselves or someone in their family who has either been laid off or is working fewer hours, and has been negatively affected in their personal economic circumstances because of what's gone on in this recession," McCormick said.

Even people with jobs worry about losing them, he said, so a recession is the wrong time to raise taxes.

"Even though they can look at these measures and perhaps say 'That doesn't affect me directly,' I think their anxiety is that they can very well affect the guy who signs my checks," McCormick said.

But supporters argue many jobs will be saved, including those of teachers and police, and that the state cannot afford to cut public services when the demand is greatest.

Scott Moore, spokesman for the Vote Yes for Oregon campaign, also said the opposition TV ads are frequently misleading or exaggerated, while supporters stick to the facts.

Moore cited the most recent ad by opponents that showed a small-business owner complaining that the increase in corporate taxes will put her out of business.

In reality, he said, the new annual tax will likely be only $150 — the minimum for small businesses with under $500,000 in gross sales.

For individuals, only households with more than $250,000 in annual income will pay any increase — about 38,000 people, or 2.5 percent of Oregon taxpayers.

Political analyst Jim Moore said Oregon voters have traditionally rejected tax measures but their mood may be shifting toward less sympathy for the wealthy or big companies.

"Arguments to protect government spending or arguments that there is nothing more to cut in the budget are actually gaining traction for the first time in the past two decades," Jim Moore said.

Bryce Ward, an economist with the Eugene-based consulting firm ECONorthwest, said no matter what voters decide, it could have a negative impact on the economy.

But under the circumstances, he said, he supports approval of the tax package.

"I think in the short run, the effects are worse if you cut public services," Bryce said. "If you cut a whole lot of money out of the state budget, you're going to see whole lot of people with reduced paychecks or out of work."

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