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Rep. Esquivel rallies opponents of state tax hikes

MEDFORD — State Rep. Sal Esquivel and the vice president of the Oregon Republican Party on Saturday called on local Republicans and conservative independents to go door-to-door to campaign against ballot measures that would raise corporate and personal income taxes for high-income earners.

The event, sponsored by Jackson County Republican Women and held in a conference room at the Central Library in downtown Medford, was billed as a town hall meeting. It drew a crowd of more than 60, made up mostly of the party's faithful and some who described themselves as independents.

Russ Walker, of Keizer, vice president of the Oregon Republican Party, said Measures 66 and 67 would drive small businesses out of state or out of business during a time when Oregon needs more economic activity.

"This is not about punishing the wealthy," Walker said. "This is about destroying our economy."

"We need help to defeat these measures," he said. "That's why I'm here."

Meanwhile, local school officials say the tax measures would provide more stability to public education. Jackson County public schools slashed their budgets this year. School districts across the state laid off teachers and cut school days from what already is the shortest school year in the nation.

Measure 66, the result of House Bill 2649, would raise taxes on an estimated 28,000 people with taxable incomes of $125,000 or more. Measure 67, from House Bill 3405, would increase the $10 corporate minimum tax and increase income taxes on corporations that make more than $250,000.

Walker said under Measure 67, corporations with no net increase in income or even losses would see tax hikes, thereby possibly threatening those businesses' viability.

Oregonians will vote on the measures Jan. 26.

The Medford School District, which educates 1 in 50 public school students in the state, has estimated that if Measures 66 and 67 fail, it would have to cut an additional $3 million from its budget.

That amounts to a reduction of 10 to 20 school days or between 25 and 30 teacher layoffs, said Paulie Brading, Medford School Board member and a member of the Jackson County Democrats.

"We are already in a situation where we aren't providing even an adequate public education to students," Brading said.

The state has one of the highest average class sizes in the nation and the shortest school year.

"What some people forget is that bad schools equal bad business," Brading said.

Education advocates such as Stand for Children also support the measures.

Esquivel claimed that schools have been used as a pawn in the debate over the tax measures when there are millions of dollars collectively in reserve and carryover funds of individual departments of the state government that haven't been tapped.

Action by the state Legislature could free up some of those funds instead of raising taxes, Walker said.

"If that's true, we would not have children sitting in elementary classes as high as 38 students in Medford," Brading said.

Brading said corporations need to pick up more of the weight in paying for state services.

"You and I have paid more in taxes in two years than corporations have ever paid," she said.

Ruth Brodman, chair of Jackson County Republican Women, said she is worried the measures will pass.

"I am in support of killing these measures and finding another way not to tax," Brodman said. "Businesses are going to leave the state and put us in a worse situation than we are in now."

Ashland resident Dave Dotterrer said he would like to see voters overturn the tax measures. But he also would like to see Republicans come up with a way to address the state's loss of income, which has affected services such as public education, he said.

"Republicans should have a solution," Dotterrer said. "Since we have a loss of income, what are we going to do about it? We need a solution for it."

Freedom Works, a nonprofit political action organization, will hold a training session next month in Medford for volunteers who wish to campaign against the tax measures or work on other Republican issues. For details, visit http://jcrw.us/ or freedomworks.org.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.