- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2004

Oregon voters will decide next month whether to repeal an $800 million tax increase approved by state lawmakers.

The Feb. 3 Oregon ballot measure is another stride for a tax-revolt movement that scored a big win by defeating a tax increase in Alabama September and already has its sights set on repealing tax increases in Ohio and Nevada.

After Oregon legislators passed the $800 million tax increase in a bipartisan effort in August, the state chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy led a petition drive that forced the issue to a vote.

“This is a huge fight, and just as the Alabama defeat did, it has huge national implications,” said Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform.

“I have spent a fair amount of time sending material to every elected official — senators, representatives, party chairmen — because I want people in Florida, Minnesota, Texas to see this so they they don’t have to learn this in their own state,” Mr. Norquist said. “People know that tax increases do not mean more services.”

In Nevada, Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn last summer signed into law a $833 million tax increase that is being challenged in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Opponents of the increase say they’ll take the issue to voters if the court refuses the case.

In Ohio, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell has broken with his fellow Republicans and mounted a campaign to challenge what lawmakers say is a temporary 1 cent on the dollar sales-tax increase enacted last summer.

Mr. Blackwell formed a group called Citizens for Tax Repeal, which has collected more than 157,000 petition signatures to place a bill to repeal the tax increase before the Ohio General Assembly.

So far, there is no word on whether that bill will be acted on. But if it is not, Mr. Blackwell has vowed to collect the additional signatures needed to place tax repeal on the ballot in November.

“There is absolutely an indication of this strong feeling across the country that if people are elected saying one thing and then do another, there can be something done about it,” said Jeff Ledbetter, treasurer of Mr. Blackwell’s group. “Getting people to sign this petition — my guess is they were not just Republicans, but also Democrats, Libertarians, Greens — was not difficult.”

The Oregon measure is a referendum on the legislature’s plan to balance the state budget. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers approved the tax plan that includes a temporary state income-tax surcharge.

The tax increase is supported by a coalition that includes the Oregon Business Association, AARP, state and local Democratic groups, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, numerous social service agencies and the AFL-CIO.

Citizens for a Sound Economy — whose national chairman is former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican — blames the state’s financial shortages on too much spending. They say expenses should be capped, rather than passed on to taxpayers.

Defenders of the tax increase note that if the measure is rejected, a 10-cent cigarette tax would be repealed. Among the contributors to Mr. Armey’s group is Philip Morris.

“My only interest is in the effort initiated by real people who live in real homes in Oregon to stop this unnecessary tax increase,” Mr. Armey said. “Our interest is the guy in the street who doesn’t want these taxes raised. … This could not be fought if the people in the community did not want to fight.”

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