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Although Multnomah County passed its own tax, Measure 30 makes sense

Oregon Editors Say:A yes voteis the best choice

The Oregonian

Ballot Measure 30 may feel the least necessary in Multnomah County, where people already approved a tax increase last spring.

But in truth, voters in Multnomah County may have the most to gain from Measure 30's passage, and much to lose from its failure. Last May, county voters overwhelmingly passed a three-year, 1.25 percent income tax to help shield local schools, human services and public safety from the state's budget crisis. This tax was necessary to keep schools from shutting down early, jails from popping open and other calamities. However, the income tax isn't ideal. It lands squarely and heavily on working individuals, not spread among many groups.

Later in 2003, the state Legislature passed a bipartisan balanced budget. This budget includes significant cuts and savings, along with a mix of taxes to make up for the steep decline in revenues from the state income tax. The package got referred to the voters in the form of Measure 30, now waiting for the tally Feb. 3.

If Measure 30 fails, Multnomah County will need every penny of that local tax as buffer against another round of state cuts. If the measure passes, the county will reduce and rebate part of the local tax.

Many county voters have understandable skepticism about Measure 30. They know the existing local tax protects the county's school districts from the deepest of the state cuts. They figure one confusing tax is better than two, and they're right about that. But county voters can't forget the original purpose of their local tax: to be a temporary lifeboat until state funding came through. The goal was never to secede financially from the rest of the state. The goal was to meet local needs until the state pulled itself together.

— The more quickly the county can reduce and drop its local income tax, the better. The more in sync Multnomah County is with the rest of Oregon, the better off the state will be.

And the more broadly the overall tax burden is spread, the more fair it is. Measure 30 is spread far more broadly and fairly than the county tax. It includes a temporary income-tax surcharge, which would cost taxpayers with a &

36;45,000 income roughly &

36;70 in 2003. Measure 30 also includes a reduction in the medical discount for high-income senior citizens, and it would continue a 10-cent-per-pack cigarette tax.

Most interesting, the balanced-budget plan in Measure 30 would close the corporate income tax loophole and end the days of Portland General Electric paying &

36;10 in state taxes. The minimum corporate income tax would be &

36;250 under Measure 30. That's reasonable.

And finally, with expected refunds if Measure 30 passes, about two-thirds of county taxpayers would pay lower taxes if the state plan passes.

We don't think this patchwork of midcycle taxes and cuts is ideal. But to attract businesses and improve Oregon's economy, the state has to stabilize its budget and end its lurching, indecisive method of running schools and other basic services. In Multnomah County, as in every part of the state, a yes vote is the best choice for Oregon's future.