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' A group of Ashland women offers food for thought

Some of the women in this cozy Ashland living room have been meeting together for 20 years, in book groups and women's groups and as neighbors.

On this winter Wednesday, they're dishing up a tax discussion along with the chocolate decadence and hot tea.

The eight women, who range in age from 44 to 71, work in education and child care, social work, senior care and small businesses throughout the Rogue Valley.

They all support Ballot Measure 30, not because they want to pay more taxes, but because of what they fear will happen if they don't.

Drastic cuts in schools, health services and public safety will occur if Measure 30 fails, they say, based on legislators' predictions.

— The women don't understand why voters would risk society's most vulnerable members.

It's such a small amount of money, says Vickie Simpson, 58, who runs a small home repair business. If you have enough and there are people who are less fortunate, you have to take care of them.

The costs of the temporary income tax surcharge ' estimated at &

36;111 a year for the average voter and &

36;43 a year for the median wage-earner in Jackson County ' is a modest increase, the women say.

Your money for your Starbucks coffee can help keep a school open for a year, says Sara Stearns, 44, an Ashland child care worker.

Even proposed decreases in medical deductions for seniors affect a relatively small percentage of Oregon's older population, says Madeline Hill, 62, a former social worker and developer of the Mountain Meadows senior living center.

The Oregon Center for Public Policy estimates that about 70 percent of Oregon seniors will not be affected by the change. The average tax increase for those who use the deduction will be &

36;150 a year.

It's not the taxes that draw Hill's ire, it's the way they were proposed. Last year's Legislature failed to adequately address the state's fiscal crisis, she says.

Measure 30 is a result of what they didn't do, she says.

Group member Susan Roudebush, 51, an education consultant, thinks the state's referendum process is the problem.

It's only the opinionated and not well-educated who have co-opted the effort, she says. The referendum process is out of control.

Another problem is politicians more worried about re-election than the public good, says Sib Farrell, 71, a manager at Southern Oregon University.

The bottom line is they will not vote for taxes because they won't get elected, she says.

All of the women worry that most voters don't understand that forcing deep cuts in service costs more in money ' and in pain ' in the long run.

If you close detox centers, don't they end up in emergency rooms and we all pay higher insurance costs? Hill says.

It's the old thing my grandmother used to talk about, which is 'penny-wise and pound foolish.'

Sib Farrell, 71, of Ashland, a manager at Southern Oregon University, supports Measure 30. But she believes state legislators have failed to make tough decisions for the public good. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell