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Beer Drinking and Smoking Could Prove Healthy for College Sports in Oregon

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Beer drinkers and cigarette smokers in Oregon are being asked to pay a penny more for their draughts and packs to save the Ducks.

Not the waterfowl, but the Ducks of the University of Oregon and the athletic squads of Oregon's six other state colleges and universities.

Measure 5 on next week's ballot calls for a 1-cent "sin" tax on every can and bottle of beer and on every pack of cigarettes sold in the state. Supporters of the proposal say it would generate an estimated $8.5 million annually, 40 percent of which would be earmarked for football and basketball and the remainder for "non-revenue-producing" sports.

According to Jeffrey Davidson of One Cent for Sports, the organization supporting the ballot measure, a recent poll of probable voters indicated that 49 percent would vote for it, 48 percent against it, with the remaining 3 percent undecided.

"It's going to be nip and tuck," he said.

The state universities, which have a combined budget deficit of $4.5 million and receive no taxpayer assistance for their athletic teams, have been forced to drop 12 sports programs during the past nine years due to lack of funding. Some in the state fear that the University of Oregon and Oregon State will be dropped from the Pac-10 Conference, which requires members to maintain a minimum number of athletic programs.

Last year, Oregon State dropped its track and field program, a move that jolted many residents. The university this summer sent two of the team's members to the Seoul Olympics.

Mr. Davidson said the proposed tax was conceived by Representative David Dix, whose district in Eugene includes the University of Oregon. He said the lawmaker came up with the idea of a "user fee" after watching drinkers and smokers at a tailgate party prior to an Oregon football game.

"Whether we like it or not, athletic achievement brings rewards," Mr. Davidson noted. "It brings more students, national attention, and more grants and awards."

The measure is being opposed by the Coalition Against Regressive Taxation, a group that Mr. Davidson said is composed primarily of representatives of the alcohol and tobacco industries.--nm

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