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State tax increases spark political battle

Local political groups are engaged in a war of words over recent tax increases passed by the Oregon Legislature.

Two anti-tax advocacy organizations, Oregonians Against Job Killing Taxes and Americans for Prosperity, are collecting signatures in Oregon communities, including Ashland, in an attempt to put the increases up for statewide vote on a special election ballot.

But the Ashland League of Women Voters is calling on residents to ignore those efforts.

"We are encouraging the general public not to sign any petitions circulated by these organizations," said Ashland league president Regina Ayars. She called the bills passed by the Legislature "efficient and effective government financial reform" that have helped to fill the gap in areas of the state budget affected by cuts.

House bills 2649 and 3405 increase the tax rate on individuals earning more than $120,000 yearly and raise the Oregon corporate minimum tax from $10 to $150, respectively. State representatives have estimated the tax increases could generate $750 million between the 2009 and 2012 tax periods.

Ayars says that money would be well spent improving local schools, or lowering the cost of health care.

"We want to ensure that we will be able to support valuable social programs that are in need of financial support," she said. "Here in Ashland there is a severe need in terms of (funding for) educational programs."

Matt Evans of the Oregon chapter of Americans for Prosperity sees it differently. The new laws would have disastrous consequences for small businesses, he said, because they would force owners to cut the hours their employees work.

"Our concern is that tens of thousands of Oregonians with jobs won't be able to keep them," Evans said. "That extra money would have to come from somewhere, and the only place businesses would be able to get it is by firing employees or reducing their hours."

He said there is no evidence citizens are in support of the increases without putting the issues to a public vote.

"All Oregonians are going to be impacted negatively by this," he said. "The Legislature really made a mistake by increasing taxes as much as it did."

Oregon's referendum process allows groups or individuals to challenge a bill passed by the state Legislature. Opponents of the bills must collect 55,000 signatures from Oregon residents by Sept. 25 to place the tax increases on a special election ballot in January.

Ayars says League of Women Voters representatives will be working in the coming weeks to inform Oregonians of each bill's benefits.

"We really want to proactively educate members of the public," she said. "This is something that will help middle-income families, not just the top 1 percent. We urge people not to sign the petitions."

Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed the bills into law July 20 as part of a series of measures aimed at reducing the state deficit. Full text of the bills is available online at the Legislature Web site, www.leg.state.or.us.

Elon Glucklich is a freelance writer living in Ashland. He can be reached at eglucklich@gmail.com or 335-9152.