Voters in Oregon Approve Tax Increases

New York Times
January 27, 2010

Amid recession, high unemployment and tight household budgets, voters in Oregon have agreed to raise taxes on people with higher incomes, to pay for public education and social services.

One of only five states with no sales tax, Oregon has long kept its corporate taxes relatively low. A statewide cap limits how much property taxes can rise, and before Tuesday voters had not approved a statewide income tax increase in nearly 80 years.

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Each of the two tax proposals, Measures 66 and 67, won decisively, in part because of support from large labor unions and because of how the taxes are directed.

Measure 66 raises taxes on individuals earning more than $125,000 a year and on couples whose income exceeds $250,000. Measure 67 raises taxes on businesses. Some will see their taxes increase by tens of thousands of dollars, but many more will be subject to only modest increases, including a rise in the corporate minimum tax to $150 from $10.

“It was a pretty good offer the proponents were making,” Pat McCormick, a spokesman for the lead opposition group, Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, said sarcastically. “Here’s a way of paying for things that’s not going to cost you anything.”

Supporters, led by teachers’ and public employees’ unions, spent about $7 million on the campaign, including television commercials and mailers that portrayed middle-class residents struggling far more than the wealthy and big business, from Wall Street executives to credit card companies.

“That was virtually the theme of all of them, that these were folks who were getting out of having to pay their fair share,” Mr. McCormick said. “They used that term, ‘protect’ the middle class.”

Charles Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy, one of the groups that pushed for the tax increases, said the campaign was not about class.

“It’s not that it was targeted at the rich,” he said. “It was targeted at the right people, those with the ability to pay. It made the system more progressive.”

Mr. Sheketoff and Mr. McCormick both said the political climate in Oregon during the campaign shared some populist similarities with those on display in the recent Senate race in Massachusetts in which the Republican Party and Tea Party groups helped elect Scott Brown, a Republican, to the seat long held by the late Edward M. Kennedy.

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