Oregon taxpayers will have the opportunity to reduce their state
taxes by over $1 billion next year, thanks to a state ballot initiative
led by a grass-roots taxpayer organization,
But the ballot measures are coming under attack from bureaucrats, big business and special interests, who last week announced the
of a coalition that will pour $2.3 million into a campaign to oppose the tax-limitation efforts. The pro-tax coalition is being financed in part by Oregon-based computer giant,
Intel, and headed by
Gov. John Kitzhaber, who has called the tax limitation measure “madness.”
Becky Miller, spokesperson for Oregon Taxpayers United, said that most of the opposition to the tax cuts comes from those feeding at the tax trough.
“This is the same cast of characters that oppose us every time,” Miller told WorldNetDaily. “When we won our property tax battle in 1996, all of these same folks predicted the end of the world. Schools would close and teachers would get pink slips, they said. But folks just aren’t buying it anymore.”
The state income tax cut measure, Measure 91, is the largest of a trio of tax initiatives that will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot. Measure 91 would make federal income taxes fully deductible for Oregon state income taxes, both for personal and corporate filings, and would repeal the current $3,000 limit on federal taxes that filers may deduct. The immediate financial effect would be to cut personal and business taxes by $938 million in the 1999-2001 budget biennium and $2 billion in the 2001-03 biennium.
A second ballot initiative, which has yet to be assigned a ballot number, sponsored by anti-tax activist Don McIntire, would limit all government spending to 15 percent of Oregonians’ personal income in the previous two years. The measure would also require the state to refund any excess tax money collected above that limit to income-tax payers. If approved, the state’s 2001-03 budget would need to be cut by $5.7 billion — nearly 20 percent of general fund spending.
The third ballot initiative, Measure 93, would require state and local governments to put most new or increased taxes and fees that exceed inflation to a public vote. Because the measure would be retroactive to December 1998, several hundred tax and fee increases passed since then would have to be put back on the ballot, including $247 million in property taxes for schools and cities.
“They are extreme, they are irresponsible, and they threaten to harm everyone in the state,” Kitzhaber said at a news conference last week regarding the three tax initiatives. “These measures are directed straight at the heart of everything Oregonians care about.”
At the forefront of the Oregon tax battle stands Bill Sizemore, executive director of Oregon Taxpayers United, who ran unsuccessfully against Kitzhaber for governor in 1998 as a Republican. Since 1990, Sizemore has sponsored
11 state ballot initiatives, most notably a 1996 initiative, Measure 47, which cut property taxes by 10 percent and capped future increases to 3 percent per year. A 1994 Sizemore initiative that required public employees to make 6 percent contributions to their pensions passed by a narrow margin, but was later nullified by the courts.
This is not the first ballot fight between Kitzhaber and Sizemore. But on the Measure 47 property tax cut and cap, as well as a 1996 initiative that put a $750 million expansion of Portland’s light-rail system to a popular vote, Kitzhaber has found himself on the losing side.
Oregon was one of the first states to authorize ballot access in 1904, and is one of 24 states with some form of initiative and referendum process. But in Oregon, putting tax measures on the ballot does not sit well with many in the political establishment.
op-ed published by the Oregonian and authored by Lewis and Clark College political science professor Robert Eisinger argues that the initiative and referendum process in Oregon is “corroding democracy” and derides the use of public opinion to guide policymakers.
“Initiatives and ballots are not models of direct democracy. Instead, they have become the poison by which organized interests have contaminated how we govern and what we think about our politics,” Eisinger writes.
“Calling for this tax cut is easy and popular, but according to more Oregon leaders across the ideological spectrum, it is fiscally imprudent. Do the masses really know better?” he stated. “Only the cynic would claim that the vast majority of political and business elites, liberal and conservative, are misguided on this issue.”
Eisinger also took straight aim at Oregon Taxpayers United’s efforts: “Bill Sizemore … is arguably the chief exploiter of the ludicrous initiative process that is destroying Oregon’s representative democracy.”
But Pete Sepp, vice president of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based
National Taxpayers Union, told WorldNetDaily that he questions how efforts promoting democratic action could be portrayed as anti-democratic.
“Remarks like that are amusing because on their very face, they are self-evidently wrong,” Sepp said in response to Eisinger’s op-ed. “If the state legislatures would listen to the people better and were a little more representative, this remedial action wouldn’t be necessary.”
Sepp also attacked the idea that tax policy would be best left to Oregon’s “political and business elites.”
“The notion that state legislatures are better equipped regarding tax policy is just ridiculous,” he said. “State legislatures frequently write contradictory and complex tax laws, which don’t get near as much scrutiny as a ballot measure does, and they tend to produce far worse consequences.”
May 1999 study authored by Sepp studied the impact of state ballot initiatives on state tax policy and concluded that ballot measures have contributed more to fiscal restraint by state governments than any other procedural device. He also found that a large majority of tax control measures, such as voter approval and legislative supermajority requirements for tax increases, are drafted and proposed by citizens but are frequently opposed by the political establishment.
According to polls released by the Kitzhaber-fronted coalition, the Committee for Our Oregon, the primary tax initiative, Measure 91, leads in the polls, while the other two tax initiatives currently remain toss-ups. Polling taken by Oregon Taxpayers United found that Measure 91 was running stronger after Kitzhaber’s pro-tax coalition announcement last week. Meanwhile, both sides are drawing battle lines and forming alliances.
“Our legislators have consistently ignored the will of the voters,” Miller said, vowing to fight on against the powerful interests arrayed in opposition to the tax ballot measures. “The politicians have sold us out time and again, and it’s completely appropriate to use the initiative process to set things right.”