|
|
|
MailTribune.com
  • A political sideshow

    Ballot language isn't likely to confuse voters, but lawmakers shouldn't draft it
  • A battle over ballot titles for two measures seeking to overturn tax increases passed by the 2009 Legislature is little more than a sideshow, but it's one that could and should have been avoided.
    • email print
  • A battle over ballot titles for two measures seeking to overturn tax increases passed by the 2009 Legislature is little more than a sideshow, but it's one that could and should have been avoided.
    The bigger question is whether Oregon voters will uphold the decision of their elected representatives to increase taxes rather than slash state services. That question will be decided on Jan. 26. The flap over how the question will appear on the ballot will be determined by the Oregon Supreme Court.
    We'll leave the larger question for later. There will be plenty of time for supporters and opponents of the tax increases to make their cases to voters between now and January. By that time, regardless of the ballot title wording, no voter will be able to say they don't understand the issue.
    Ballot Measure 66 is a referendum seeking to overturn House Bill 2649, which increases personal income taxes on income above $250,000 for a household or $125,000 for an individual. It affects about 28,000 high-income Oregonians. Measure 67 is a referendum on House Bill 3405, which increases the corporate minimum tax — which has been $10 since the 1930s — and boosts income taxes on corporations earning more than $250,000.
    Opponents of the increases gathered more than enough signatures from registered voters to put the referendum measures on the ballot.
    Majority Democrats did themselves no favors by pre-empting the usual procedure of having the attorney general approve the ballot title and explanatory information that voters will see when they cast their ballots.
    Legislative leaders tried for the appearance of fairness by appointing a special committee of four Democrats and two Republicans to draft the language, and held a public hearing. But Democrats still controlled the final product, which is reflected in the approved wording.
    The title for Measure 66 says: "Raises tax on household income at and above $250,000 (and $125,000 for individual filers). Reduces income taxes on unemployment benefits in 2009. Maintains funds currently budgeted for education, health care, public safety, other services."
    The title for Measure 67 says: "Raises $10 corporate minimum tax, business minimum tax, corporate profits tax. Maintains funds currently budgeted for education, health care, public safety, other services.
    In each title, referendum sponsors object to the sentence saying the increase "maintains funds currently budgeted" for the three hot-button services education, health care and public safety. While the sentence is true as stated, there is no way to know how lawmakers might choose to balance the budget if the tax increases are defeated — or if one tax is upheld and the other repealed.
    The line about reducing income taxes on unemployment benefits is true, too — but it's clearly aimed at appealing to out-of-work voters. There are 28,000 high-income Oregonians facing a tax increase, but there are 270,000 drawing unemployment.
    The Democrats are not the first to take ballot title drafting into their own hands. The Republicans, when they controlled the Legislature, did exactly the same thing, more than once.
    In fairness to all factions, ballot titles should be as neutral as possible, a task for which legal experts in the Justice Department are uniquely suited. A partisan body should not be involved.
Reader Reaction

      calendar