Budget & Finance

Ore. Activists Seek to Dismantle Special Local Tax

By Rhea R. Borja — April 21, 2004 2 min read
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A hard-won $384 million local tax measure that benefits some cash-strapped Oregon school districts and social-services programs may disappear if anti-tax activists can put the issue in front of voters once again.

Such activists, led by Don McIntire, the president of the Taxpayer Association of Oregon, filed a petition with the Multnomah County elections division last month to repeal the county’s three-year personal-income tax. Mr. McIntire’s group and other anti-tax supporters need to gather 14,714 valid signatures from registered voters in the county by early May to put the initiative on the state’s September ballot—or mid-July for the November ballot.

“It never ends, this constant barrage of taxes that get thrown at us,” said Jason D. Williams, the executive director of the anti-tax group, based in Tigard, Ore. “People really feel overloaded.”

People are tired of bureaucratic inefficiency, Mr. Williams said. When residents of Multnomah County, which includes Portland, received their income-tax bills, which ranged from a couple of hundred to thousands of dollars, his office was flooded with phone calls, he said. There are about 678,000 residents in Multnomah County, which is the most populous county in the state.

While a number of tax-increase measures have been proposed recently in Oregon, most were defeated. If voters overturn the temporary tax, known as Measure 26-48, it would be the third such tax- increase measure to fail in Oregon in little more than a year.

For instance, Measure 30, which would have funded schools, health care, prisons and police statewide, failed in February. (“Ore. Rejects Budget Plan for Schools,” Feb. 11, 2004.)

A similar proposal, Measure 28, failed in January of last year. (“Oregon Rejects Tax Hike That Would Have Helped Schools,” Feb. 5, 2003.)

Potential Losses

Some school leaders and parents expressed anger over the latest anti-tax effort. About 100 Oregon school districts shaved days off the school year, laid off teachers, and cut academic and sports programs last year because of budget problems.

“Our first thought was, ‘Oh God, not again,’” said Bobbie Regan, a Portland school board member and a co-founder of the parent-activist group Help Out Public Education, or HOPE. “We thought we had a little window of stability.”

Anger over school funding cuts spurred 56 percent of voters in Multnomah County—which has eight school districts, including the 49,000- student Portland schools—to approve Measure 26-48 in May of last year. The temporary measure imposed a first-ever personal-income tax of 1.25 percent, which will generate an estimated $128 million to $135 million annually for three years.

Of those revenues, 75 percent would be used to help schools ensure that they can provide a full instructional year, maintain class sizes, and pay for academic programs. The other 25 percent would help pay for social services and public safety in Multnomah County.

The potential financial losses to schools will be substantial if the tax-repeal effort succeeds. The Portland district would lose an estimated $48 million, or 12.5 percent of its 2004-05 budget; the 12,000-student Gresham-Barlow district would lose $10 million out of an $81 million budget.

The anti-tax activists don’t know what they’re talking about when they say schools have adequate funding, said Ken Noah, the superintendent of the Gresham-Barlow district. “I want them to show how $10 million can be [lost] without significantly impacting the quality of education,” he said.

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