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Voices of the Vote: Precinct 48, Medford

The complex drama of Measure 30 plays itself out in east Medford

In a state deeply divided over government spending, the heart of old Medford splits right down the center when it comes to new taxes.

Shady Cove voters regularly shoot down new taxes, and Ashland voters generally approve them, but there's more middle to the road in the east Medford neighborhoods that comprise Jackson County Precinct 48.

Consider Oregon's last tax vote, on Measure 28, in January 2003: 51.6 percent of the voters in the precinct approved the tax, and 48.3 percent rejected it. No other large precinct in the county had such a narrow spread in the vote on the tax measure, which failed by a 55-to-45 percent margin in Jackson County and statewide.

The visited with voters last week in the precinct ' an area roughly bounded by Black Oak Drive, Siskiyou Boulevard, Willamette Avenue and Jackson Street ' to find out what they think about the latest tax proposal: Measure 30, which seeks voter approval of &

36;800 million in new taxes passed by the Legislature to balance Oregon's budget for 2003-05.

— Many said they would support Measure 30 in the Feb. — election simply because it provides more money for schools. Education is a high priority in these neighborhoods, where college graduates outnumber high school grads by a ratio of 9 to 5, according to U.S. Census data.

I tend to vote in favor of spending money on things that are valuable, said Lucy Warnick, an artist who lives off Highland Drive, where the yards are well-kept and the only dead cars are aging classics waiting for restoration. Education is more important than anything as far as tax dollars go.

Others fear that giving the Legislature more money won't solve the problems that put Oregon so deeply in the hole.

People don't trust the government because there's been so much waste, said Audrey Casey, who manages an apartment complex not far from Warnick's home. It's kind of scary to vote for it, and it's kind of scary not to vote for it.

Many know from personal experience that more budget cuts will hurt real people. Warnick works part-time as a caregiver for a disabled woman; Casey has a daughter with multiple medical problems who also receives in-home care.

If we cut more now, those cuts are just going to cost more money down the road, Warnick said. All those people are just going to end up with larger problems.

People who oppose the tax increase acknowledge the hurt, too, but that doesn't mean they're cold-hearted, said Robert Rushing, who has a son in the fifth grade at Roosevelt Elementary School.

It's not that we don't care about our state, said Rushing, who volunteers in his son's classroom, but because we've given (government) enough money.

I will probably vote against it because I don't think it will solve the problem, said Rosalyn Rhinehart, who has lived in the same house on Hillcrest Road for nearly 40 years. I will be sorry for everybody who will suffer.

Some say the ballot measure is really a vote on redefining government's role in society.

Oregonians and most other Americans feel it's people's responsibility to take care of themselves, said John Wickre, a 2002 graduate of South Medford High School now attending Willamette University. The more taxes that are taken from people, the less ability they have to take care of themselves.

Others say government can't abandon social programs it has taken on over the past decades.

It used to be that the churches took care of the poor, but they don't do that anymore, said Jerry Baird, a retired Air Force pilot and a Medford resident for 30 years. Families used to take care of their aged. We don't do that anymore.

Baird said ideology will sway some people's votes, but for others Measure 30 is strictly a pocketbook issue.

The folks who are dependent on fixed incomes aren't willing to support this, he said. It will be money out of their pockets.

Many east Medford voters give the Legislature poor marks for its efforts to solve the budget stalemate.

We had folks sitting in Salem doing nothing, Baird said. It (the budget stalemate) could have gone on for another year.

What I don't understand is why they don't do something constructive at the beginning of the session, said Katherine Jennings, a Medford resident for 40 years. They govern by crisis, and then we get tired of listening to the crisis.

The three-year limit on the proposed tax increase could sway some people to vote for it, said Sheila Kimball, who has lived in east Medford for more than 50 years.

People are upset about the tax system and want to see it straightened out, Kimball said. But we can't let things fall apart while we're waiting.

Others don't trust government enough to believe only three years, said Fred Goings, a retired builder.

There's some real anxiety that that tax will remain permanent, Goings said.

As east Medford residents began to read the Voter's Pamphlet last week, opinions were mixed on the ballot measure's chances.

I'm hoping the thing's going to pass and I'm voting for it, said Kimball's husband, Roy, a retired accountant. As a society in general we're kind of selfish. We vote our own pocketbook. An awful lot of people who vote against measures like this could really afford it.

I don't think it's going to pass, said Rushing, the Roosevelt parent, and my hope is that it doesn't and that forces state government and the Legislature to rethink things.

Sunrise greets a walker on Valley View Drive in east Medford. Voters in Precinct 48 are evenly divided when it comes to taxes. Some are quick to support schools and social services; others believe higher taxes won?t solve Oregon?s budget woes. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell