The measure's opponents all make essentially the same argument: state legislators spend our money unwisely and immorally, so voters should refuse to give them more. Opponents also claim that, beleaguered by unemployment and recession, the last thing Oregonians need is to give up even more of their hard-earned money to those Salem scofflaws.
Ultimately, these arguments are close to moot. Measure 28 is a temporary (three-year) tax increase, proposed in response to the extraordinary combination of economic struggles currently plaguing the state. More importantly, the actual cost to the taxpayer is quite minimal. Most media have claimed that the "average" taxpayer's bill will increase $114 annually; this statistic is misleading because the incomes of the very wealthy inflate the figure. The typical (median) taxpayer's share is actually about 70 bucks. Those who make under $30,000 will pay about $50, and under $20,000, less than $20.
On the other hand, the impact Measure 28's failure would have on every Oregonian is enormous--especially for Portlanders, since Multnomah County is going through its own budget calamity. The consequences of the measure's failure--$310 million more in budget cuts--would almost certainly strike irrevocable blows to Oregon's schools, criminal justice system, and social services.
Courts and schools, still reeling from recent setbacks, will both lose staff and services if proposed cuts go through. Students throughout Oregon's public universities will face tuition increases of more than 10%.
Multnomah County's mental health system has undergone some reconstruction and improvement since the fatal shooting of Jose Mejia Poot a year-and-a-half ago prompted the public to scrutinize Portland's treatment of its mentally ill. Peter Davidson, director of county mental health services, admits that state budget cuts could erase much of the county's progress.
Recent cuts to the Oregon Health Plan, terminating all mental health and substance recovery benefits for over 100,000 clients, have already led to layoffs and clinic closures in Portland and throughout Oregon. Measure 28 could prevent $88 million more in human services cuts.
Among services the measure could save is the Hooper Detoxification Center, whose "sobering station" facility on the corner of MLK and Burnside provides a safe, medically supervised place for at-risk public inebriates to sober up. Hooper lightens the load for already-overburdened hospital emergency rooms and jails.
Addiction-recovery and mental health advocates predict that ERs will see increased traffic as patients without medication and services overdose or act out. If Hooper closes, ER backlogs could swell even more with the publicly inebriated; Portland Police Bureau spokesman Brian Schmautz has stated that jails are already too crowded and understaffed to substitute for the detox facility.
The Oregon State Police plans to lay off one-third of its employees, including 129 troopers, if the tax increase fails; four of seven state crime labs are slated to close. The state Department of Corrections may free up to one-third of the state's inmates, closing five prisons. Successful inmate work-release and drug treatment programs will shut down as the department lays off more than 900 employees.
President Bush's recent budget proposal, eliminating taxes on corporate dividends, could cost Oregon $100 million in tax revenue. If he prevails, Measure 28's revenue will save countless social service programs from outright elimination.
Initially expected to fail, 28 has been gaining ground since October. Recent polls give the measure a surprising--but tenuous--lead. Help ensure that Oregon's infrastructure doesn't collapse. VOTE YES ON 28.