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Tax measure seems doomed

But local legislators say those in the new session won't bother to stop the &

36;1.5 million election

Despite the likely failure of Measure 28 in January, Oregon legislators say there is little that can be done to pull the plug on a special election that will cost the cash-strapped state &

36;1.5 million.

Senate Minority Leader Kate Brown, D-Portland, said the Legislature doesn't have the political will to take the income tax measure off the ballot, even though recent polls have shown voters would defeat it.

Measure 28 would increase taxes temporarily to help offset a state budget shortfall, raising &

36;312 million in the current budget and &

36;412 million in the 2002-04 budget.

If the measure fails, the state will have to cut a total of &

36;450 million to schools, human services and public safety in the current budget.

It may be an exercise in futility, but there is not the support in the new Legislature to take it off the ballot, she said. There is a group of legislators who want to keep it on the ballot and then do an 'I told you so.'

These legislators, who are in both the Republican and Democratic camps, want to set an example by showing the fruitlessness of trying to raise taxes during a recession, she said.

Measure 28's defeat would reveal to voters how grave the budget cutbacks will be, she said.

When 130 Oregon State Police officers are laid off and two weeks of school are shortened, it will become readily apparent to people, she predicted.

Sen. Lenn Hannon said the Jan. 28 election will be a total waste of money. It's going to go down by a pretty substantial margin, he predicted.

The Ashland Republican said he would like to take it off the ballot, but he doesn't think that idea would get enough legislative support.

We have a lot of weak-kneed sissies up here who don't have the courage to remove it, he said. Why continue to jab the voters in the eye with a stick?

Rep. Alan Bates said he would support withdrawing the measure from the ballot if he was certain that voters would reject it.

I think its chances of passing are low if not zero, said the Ashland Democrat.

Bates said he will await the results of an Oregon Education Association poll before he would consider canceling the election.

If we do that and there is no chance of its passage, then there is no purpose in running an election, he said.

However, naysayers have been wrong in the past, he cautioned.

Other legislators predicted Measure 19, which shifted state funds to give education more money, also wouldn't pass in September, but 61 percent of voters approved it, he said.

He is hesitant to withdraw the measure from the ballot because of the financial impact to Oregon's schools, health services and public safety.

Despite some voter apathy after a litany of budget cuts, Bates said, It's amazing that you can cut a budget 20 percent and not see horrific changes. For the average voter, it's not right in your face.

Rep. Rob Patridge blamed the Democrats and outgoing Gov. John Kitzhaber for forcing Measure 28 onto the voters during a series of special sessions that looked for ways to plug the state's shortfall.

While Patridge doesn't think Measure 28 is likely to pass, he said there may be legal and constitutional problems in dropping it from the ballot at this point.

As to the cost of the election, Patridge said, &

36;1.5 million is a drop in the bucket. That's a minor issue. The major issue is we need government accountability. We need to win back some confidence in the government.

The Medford Republican doesn't believe the new Legislature will find some magical way of dealing with the budget dilemma Measure 28's defeat will wreak on Oregon schools and other agencies.

I think there's a pretty deep hole, he said. I think the low-hanging fruit has been picked.

In the meantime, it will be another problem for the new Legislature and new governor to deal with, said Patridge.

It puts a lodestone around Ted Kulongoski's neck, he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail