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A Number of Governors Seeking To Whip Up Grassroots Support for Tax Reform

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While Gov. Lawton Chiles hits the Florida hustings on behalf of higher taxes, several other governors are also trying to enlist grassroots support for tax reform.

The goal, say the governors, is to prevent what could become an irreversible erosion of public education and other government services.

Dissatisfied with the Colorado legislature's patchwork approach to education funding, Gov. Roy Romer is spearheading a petition drive to win a place on the November ballot for the proposed "Colorado children first act of 1992.''

The proposal calls for a wide-ranging series of school reforms and an increase in the sales tax from 3 cents to 4 cents.

To build support, Governor Romer, who is chairman of the Colorado Children First campaign, has made a circuit of schools and community meetings throughout the state. Mr. Romer tells audiences about the initiative, how education got into its current predicament, and what the projected $450-million deficit next year could do to the state's schools.

"The strategy is that it needs to be a grassroots effort,'' said Donna Gardner, the president of the Colorado P.T.A.

Organizers are building the grassroots effort around the approximately 1,300 school buildings in Colorado.

"We are asking every single building in the state to have a lead person, preferably a parent or community member, be responsible for 20 people in that building to get 20 signatures,'' explained Ms. Gardner, who is vice chairman of the campaign. "That will result in approximately a half-million signatures.''

That number is far in excess of the 50,000 signatures organizers need to get on the ballot, Ms. Gardner noted.

The showing of strength is necessary, however, she maintained. "Our goal is not to just get something on the ballot,'' she said. "Because this issue is critical, we want it to pass.''

Priming the Public

In Oregon, meanwhile, Gov. Barbara Roberts is not currently proposing tax increases. But, since November, she has been going directly to the voters in person and via two-way broadcasting to explain the difficult fiscal problems confronting the state.

The meetings are called "A Conversation with Oregon.''

"It's not really time to talk about [specifics of] the tax restructuring,'' said Sarah Carlin Ames, a spokesman for Governor Roberts.

Oregon's difficulties stem in large measure from Measure 5, a ballot initiative approved by state voters in 1990. The measure took effect in July 1991.

The tax-limitation measure decreases property-tax rates for school and local spending over five years. State government is responsible for picking up the cutback in education funding during that five-year period.

Rather than calling immediately for a rise in state income or other taxes, or for the creation of a state sales tax, to counter projected budget shortfalls, Governor Roberts first launched a campaign to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy throughout the state government.

Then, through the state's two-way broadcast system, Ms. Roberts has asked some 13,000 randomly selected voters how they feel about the way their tax dollars are spent and what level of government service they want.

In effect, what Ms. Roberts is trying to do is make voters realize that if they are unwilling to accept fewer services, the state's tax structure must be revamped.

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