Labor movement urges ‘yes’ vote on BM 30

Oregon’s labor movement, represented by the Oregon AFL-CIO, has enlisted in the uphill battle to support Measure 30, the Feb. 3 referendum in which voters will decide whether to approve the State Legislature’s revenue package.

It took eight months — the longest session in Oregon history — for the Legislature to agree on a response to a severe drop in state revenues, but the bipartisan compromise reached last summer contained many of the elements the union federation had been advocating: The burden of the temporary changes in tax law falls largely on those most able to pay.

The package raises $800 million in new revenues over a two-year period. About $60 million of that would come from a repeal of certain corporate income tax deductions; $73 million would come from a new corporate minimum tax, so that companies like Portland General Electric that have paper losses would pay the state more than the current $10 a year; $42 million would come from repeal of a deduction for medical expenses paid by well-to-do seniors.

The largest chunk, $550 million, would come from a three-year income tax surcharge, based on ability to pay. This increase is much smaller than the decrease in the federal income taxes, meaning Oregon taxpayers would still pay a good deal less in income taxes than they did two years ago.

If Measure 30 passes, the average individual Oregon income taxpayer, earning $34,000 a year, would pay $71 more in Oregon income taxes — $5.90 a month — while paying $814 less in federal taxes. Taxpayers earning $21,000 would pay $22 more. Those earning $55,000 would pay $140 more.

Those particulars don’t matter to the national “shrink government” group Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), chaired by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey. CSE funded the signature-gathering campaign to put the Oregon Legislature’s revenue package to a vote, and now it’s funding the campaign urging voters to overturn it, joined by right-wing Oregon millionaires like Dick Wendt of Jeld-Wen, Wes Lamatta of Columbia Helicopters, and Aaron Jones of Seneca Sawmill.

With active campaigns all over the country, CSE wages war on any tax anywhere ... because it’s ideologically opposed to what government does — restraining business behavior and providing a social safety net and public social benefits that the private sector could potentially provide. On its Web site, Chairman Armey explains that the group’s aims include:
• Replacing the graduated income tax with a flat tax — thereby eliminating the principle that those who make more should pay more;
• Privatizing Social Security;
• Eroding public schools by introducing school choice vouchers;
• Eliminating regulations opposed by corporations; and
• Reining in civil lawsuits against corporations.
It’s unlikely that a majority of Oregon voters share that agenda, but if Measure 30 fails, immediate cuts to schools, public safety and programs for the poor, the sick and the elderly are the likely result.
Anticipating that its work might be repealed by voters, the Legislature passed a separate bill outlining nearly $700 million in cuts that will be made if Measure 30 fails. Some of them include:
• Cuts of $284 million to K-12 education could result in a shorter school year, larger class sizes and the layoff of up to 4,000 teachers;
• Cuts to the Oregon Health Plan could end basic medical coverage for 80,000 working people;
• Cuts of $68 million to public safety would prompt the state crime lab to lay off half of its staff, and would mean less supervision of paroled sex offenders, fewer jail beds for juvenile offenders, and no jail time for any but felony offenders;
• Cuts in higher education would result in steep tuition increases in community colleges; and
• Cuts in senior services would mean fewer seniors could stay in their homes and get in-home care.

Those impacts would affect working people more than the well-to-do, said Morgan Allen, veteran of a number of labor-supported political campaigns, and director of Yes on 30: For Our Oregon.

“Union households are really dependent on public education,” he said, “because their kids aren’t as likely to be in private school. And working people, if they lose their job and have to be retrained, that’s where they go is community college.”

Allen said early polls made the struggle to pass the referendum look daunting, but newer polls show public support creeping upward, and he predicts a close election.

“No one is saying that the sky will fall if voters reject Measure 30,” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt in the labor federation’s Weekly Update. “ But, as we learned after the failure of Measure 28 one year ago, there can be sharp edges to the pieces that fall when the state has to cut budgets for schools, health care and public safety.”

Last year, 90 school districts were forced to cut an average of five school days from their schedules, tens of thousands of poor families lost access to health services from the Oregon Health Plan, state troopers were laid off and courts closed on Fridays, Nesbitt pointed out.

“But, as the anti-government crowd reminds us, the sky never fell. Instead, Oregon was mocked in Doonesbury and pilloried in the national media as the poster child for a failed state.”

Nesbitt says it could happen again if opponents of Measure 30 succeed in convincing voters that the state can live without new revenue and still keep essential services intact.

“That’s the message we’re hearing from the opposition,” Nesbitt said. “But when challenged to back up their arguments, their numbers don’t add up.”

The coalition in support of Measure 30 includes about 125 groups, including labor unions, the Oregon Business Association, the AARP, the PTA, League of Women Voters, Oregon Food Bank, Oregon Catholic Conference, and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.

The campaign plan includes literature drops, phone calling and radio ads. The Oregon AFL-CIO is lending its auto-dialing machines, and public employee unions are putting staff and volunteer time and hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign.

The AFL-CIO opened its phone banks in Portland Jan. 12. Volunteers will be calling union members between 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, through election day. To volunteer, call Steve Lanning at 503-585-6320.

To help with the campaign’s outreach to non-union voters, go to or call Karynn Fish at 503-230-0922. The Yes on 30 campaign is organizing volunteers for voter contact in the Portland metro area, Salem, Eugene, Medford and Bend.

The deadline to register to vote in this election was Jan. 13. Ballots will be mailed Jan. 16 and are due back Feb. 3. A “yes” vote means approval of the Legislature’s revenue package, while a “no” vote means repealing the package and accepting the resulting cuts.

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