Almost everyone at city hall was on vacation last week—me included—but there's another hall that was firmly in session down in Salem: The Hall of Satan. That's right. An (almost certainly Satanic) right-wing anti-tax group filed two referendum proposals on Tuesday morning, July 21, to refer Governor Ted Kulongoski's two recent tax hikes to the ballot.
One of Kulongoski's measures would modestly raise targeted taxes on corporations and the other would slightly increase income taxes for the richest Oregonians. I know: HARSH. Oh, no... you're right... they're tiny changes in a year where Oregon has faced a $3 billion budget hole for vital services like health care, public safety, and education. The tax increases are only expected to bring in roughly $750 million statewide.
Nevertheless the subtly titled group, calling itself Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, has raised $200,000 to fight the tax increases in a January election, says spokesperson Pat McCormick. McCormick's group has also hired tobacco lobbyist Mark Nelson as its treasurer—Nelson was named most satanic lobbyist in the Mercury's recent survey of lobbyists' integrity in Salem. ["Advocates, Mercenaries, or Minions of Satan?" Feature, July 9].
The group will spend half a million bucks to gather the necessary 55,179 signatures by the September 25 turn-in deadline, says McCormick.
"This is the most energized and angry I've seen the business community on any issue," he says, adding that businesses approached Salem legislators with more "broad-based" plans for temporary tax reform, but that they were denied. McCormick says public employee unions put pressure on legislators to use the economic crisis as a way of forcing through permanent tax hikes.
"Oregon's corporate minimum tax has been an embarrassingly low $10 since 1931," responds Scott Moore, communications director for Our Oregon (and former Mercury news editor)—an activist group which plans to campaign for the tax measures. "The opponents of these measures would rather cut a month off the school year than ask corporations to pay more than $10 a year in taxes. That is not a temporary problem."
In order to convince voters to side with them, the anti-tax folks are going to have to spend a lot of money on a misleading campaign. Still, lobbyist Nelson did it before in 2007, when big tobacco spent $12 million defeating a tobacco tax increase to pay for children's health care. As we now know, underestimating the devil is always a bad move.