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Oregon Voters Defeat Tax Hike for Schools

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An Oregon ballot initiative to establish a 5 percent sales tax earmarked for education was defeated by a three-to-one margin last week.

Education groups had touted the sales tax as a way to relieve the fiscal crisis Oregon schools are facing as a result of Measure 5, a property-tax-limitation initiative approved by voters in 1990.

Rejection of the measure--the 11th unsuccessful attempt since 1933 to impose a sales tax in the state--appeared to signal the end of prospects for a new source of school funding.

"We are going to have to look at other ways to provide the quality education Oregonians want for their children,'' Gov. Barbara Roberts said in a statement.

The Democratic Governor, who had supported the initiative, said that it was "time to move on'' and that she would call for a moratorium on any major new tax proposals.

The tax plan would have generated an estimated $387 million over the next two years for the schools, which are experiencing a $500 million shortfall this year, largely as a result of Measure 5.

The initiative required the state to reimburse school districts for lost property-tax revenues during a five-year phase-in period. So the state must restore some $1.57 billion to districts in its 1993-95 budget, but can still cut from the $1 billion in general-fund aid it already provides to districts. (See Education Week, Sept. 8, 1993.)

'A Vote Against Government'

Superintendent of Public Instruction Norma Paulus, who supported the initiative, "was disappointed in the margin'' of defeat, according to Larry Austin, a spokesman for the state education department.

"It's not a vote against schools,'' he added. "It was a vote against the legislature and government, which are not downsized.''

David Geiger, the president of the Oregon School Boards Association, agreed that the vote showed frustration with state government.

"We've had a long, laborious legislative session this year,'' he said, "with a lot of acrimonious behavior on the part of the two parties.''

Opponents of the measure, who charged that it would hurt low-income residents, suggested that funds for schools should instead be generated from a graduated income tax or higher corporate taxes.

In the absence of a sales tax or some alternative, Mr. Geiger said, students are going to see larger classes and fewer teachers. Also likely to become more prevalent are fees for extracurricular activities, he added.

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