- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2004

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Now that the Republican-controlled Congress has endorsed President Bush’s tax cuts, former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey and other national antitax leaders are zeroing in on Oregon.

On Feb. 3, Oregonians will vote on an $800 million tax increase that legislators passed last August in their latest attempt to patch holes in the state budget.

Mr. Armey’s Citizens for a Sound Economy, which was instrumental in putting the Oregon tax increase before voters by collecting 118,000 petition signatures, argues that state government needs to reduce spending rather than raise taxes.

The Washington-based group believes a resounding defeat of Oregon’s Measure 30 will make an influential statement.

“When Oregon voters block the tax increase, then the legislatures and governors in other states will be forced to deal with spending cuts,” the Texas Republican said in an interview.

Mr. Armey’s group also worked to defeat a $1.2 billion tax increase package that Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican, proposed to erase that state’s budget shortfall and pay for new education programs. Alabama voters overwhelmingly rejected the package in September.

“Opposition to tax increases is total at the national level,” said Grover Norquist, president of another Washington-based antitax group, Americans for Tax Reform.

Social-services advocates, fighting to preserve funding for programs they say are essential to society’s neediest citizens, are also closely watching the Oregon election.

“People are talking about the Oregon vote as a sort of a bellwether on whether broad-based taxes are politically possible,” said Matt Gardner of the Washington-based Citizens for Tax Justice, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Measure 30 gives Oregon voters a choice between accepting an $800 million tax boost or having the Legislature cut state spending by that amount. The main part of the package is a three-year income-tax surcharge that would cost an individual in the $40,000 to $50,000 annual income range $105 more per year.

The plan also proposes a smaller medical tax reduction for senior citizens, an increase in corporate minimum taxes and a reduction in the discount for early payment of property taxes.

Voter rejection of the package would trigger automatic funding cuts for schools, law enforcement and benefits for the elderly and needy. It would carve more than $200 million from the Oregon Health Plan, which would eliminate health insurance for more than 55,000 low-income people.

Public opinion polls have shown the tax increase is opposed by a majority of voters.

“People don’t necessarily buy the doom-and-gloom predictions,” said Portland pollster Tim Hibbitts. “Whether it’s true or not, they have a perception that government has enough money if only they would manage it better.”

Mr. Hibbitts said he wasn’t surprised by the poll numbers, given Oregonians’ traditional aversion to taxes and voters’ rejection of a smaller tax increase a year ago.

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