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Commentary:Politics won in legislative efforts to deal with taxes

By DOUG WHITSETT, Guest writer for Herald and News 11/1/09

The author Doug Whitsett is the state senator from District 28, which includes Klamath, Lake and Crook counties and parts of Deschutes and Jackson counties.

The old axiom that power tends to corrupt, but absolute power corrupts absolutely, is alive and thriving in Salem.

    The Democrat legislative majority is intent on forcing $733 million in new taxes on Oregon taxpayers. The Legislative Revenue Office estimates that three-fourths of those taxpayers will be small- and medium-sized businesses.

    EcoNorthwest economist Randall Pozdena estimates the tax increases will result in the loss of about 40,000 additional jobs and more than $3 billion in personal income.

    Apparently, Democrat leaders have discarded the concept that Oregon voters are capable of deciding for themselves. They have done virtually everything in their power to prohibit the people of Oregon from deciding the issue on the ballot.

    First, they refused to refer the tax proposals for the voters to decide. They ignored the public input of the business community while writing the bills.

    The business community diligently attempted to work with the leadership to help increase state revenue. However, they are not willing to bear the entire tax burden, to accept permanent tax increases to alleviate a temporary revenue shortfall, to reduce employment opportunities, or to pay taxes on their gross income regardless of profitability.

Votes follow party lines   

    Ignoring objections of the business community, the Democrats passed both tax measures on party line votes.

    After it became apparent that a campaign to refer the tax measures to Oregon voters to decide would be mounted, the Democrat leadership attempted to pass legislation that would influence the outcome of that referral vote.

    HB 2414 allows the Legislature to bypass the normal legal procedures and to write the ballot titles, summaries, explanatory statements and financial analyses themselves. Incredibly, the same folks who wrote the tax measures would write the titles and explanatory statements.

    Then, literally in the dark of the night, they amended HB 2414 to further influence the outcome of the referral vote. The amended version stated that a yes vote in favor of the referral to overturn the tax measures would mean no, and that a no vote would mean yes. The ensuing public outrage caused them to meet again to remove that offensive language.

    They then passed HB 2414 as originally written on nearly party line votes over strong objections that the outcome would result in partisan, biased titles and statements.

    Many of us who objected remembered how the same procedure resulted in the partisan and biased ballot title and statements that swayed voters to approve Measure 49, the supposed fix for the Measure 37 land-use reform. The past two years have clearly demonstrated that the fix was in on that measure as well. The express lane has become a blind alley.

    Our objections were well-founded. Our stated concerns are exactly what happened in the committee assigned to write the titles and explanations.

    The ballot titles and statements were voted out of committee by the Democrats on straight party line votes. In my opinion, those ballot titles and statements are so biased that they are simply disingenuous.

    It is apparent that phrases and groups of words that polled well are used repeatedly, the exact same wording being used time and again. Words that did not poll well like “recession,” “job loss,” “unemployment,” “business failure” and “bankruptcy” are not found in the statements.

    Not to be outdone, Gov. Kulongoski delayed signing the tax measures to limit the time available to gather petition signatures.

    Secretary of State Kate Brown spent nearly $150,000 of taxpayer funds to hire private investigators to spy on and perhaps attempt to intimidate referral petition signature gatherers.

Decision goes to the people   

    In spite of the coordinated Democrat effort, the petitioners succeeded in gathering nearly twice as many signatures as required to ensure that both tax measures will be decided by the people next January.

    Opponents of the tax measures have made it clear they will challenge the ballot titles and explanatory statements by appealing to the Oregon Supreme Court to have the attorney general write them in the manner proscribed by law.

    In a second legal action, opponents have challenged the constitutional authority of the Legislature to write the titles and statements because that function is rightfully reserved to the executive branch. Moreover, a committee cannot be assigned the task of making law without an affirmative majority vote of the entire Legislature.

    The sad reality is that all this political posturing could have been avoided by referring the tax measures to the voters, and by allowing the attorney general to fairly write the ballot titles and statements as proscribed by law.

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