- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) A county jail began freeing inmates yesterday as state agencies across Oregon implemented emergency spending cuts following voters' rejection of a temporary income-tax increase.

"It's a party atmosphere at the jail today," lamented Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto as he announced the early release of 31 inmates among 114 scheduled to be freed during the day.

Some of the freed inmates had been in jail pending trial. Others were serving time for crimes ranging from assault to drug manufacturing to sex abuse.

Their release was one of the first cost-saving measures to take effect after voters rejected the tax-rise proposal Tuesday by 54 percent to 46 percent.

Measure 28 aimed to stave off $310 million in spending cuts by raising income-tax bills for most residents by 5 percent over three years. The cuts come on top of $700 million slashed from the budget by lawmakers last year.

Without the higher income taxes, the state plans to stop medical benefits for 12,000 elderly or disabled people and reduce mental-health services for 7,200 people. In addition, 129 state troopers were to be laid off Saturday and school districts across Oregon will lose out on $95 million in state funding that would have been provided by the tax increase.

Legislative leaders met with Gov. Ted Kulongoski yesterday to discuss how to soften the blow, though the Democrat has said he will let the cuts take effect in a state already reeling from one of the nation's highest unemployment rates.

The Portland School District, which reduced its school year by 15 days after last year's cuts, will likely have to cut another nine days.

"Students aren't going to get the education they need," district chief Jim Scherzinger said.

In rural Union County, services will be scaled back at the Center for Human Development, a nonprofit organization that provides public health and mental health services. The tax increase would have restored $11,000 to its budget.

The most serious patients will still be seen, Executive Director David Still said. "But we won't see everybody."


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