As John Kerry was firming up his front-runner status in seven Democratic primaries on Feb. 3, Oregon voters were defeating Measure 30, an $800 million package of income tax surcharges, cigarette tax renewals and minimum corporate-tax increases, which was intended to restore funding that has been cut from education and basic services.
quite the word. We crushed it 3 to 2, and that doesn’t tell
the whole story. "That ballot needed another box besides
‘YES’ and ‘NO’," said a caller to my radio
talk show. "I was looking for ‘HELL, NO’." He had
plenty of company.
A letter from one of the many
still-angry writers to the Oregonian said in its entirety, "Oregon
taxpayers to the Oregon legislature: ‘Can you hear me
True to my pathetic electoral batting
average, I had voted yes. I thought Measure 30 was an affordable,
decently progressive package. I believe we’re shirking the
public investment that made Oregon a great state, and that the
tales of mountainous state-government fat are thin on the facts.
I’ll spare you the details of my views. They seem a little
late and stale just now. And futile.
becoming clear is that we’re fighting this taxation-services
battle, here in Oregon and across the West, in a box that’s
much too small. We snarl endlessly at each other about value
received for our tax dollars, with barely a glance at the federal
government that chews up most of those dollars. It’s like
searching for the best diet plan by analyzing midday snacks while
pretending that breakfast, lunch and dinner don’t exist. In
Oregon, it’s been all about snacks. Anti-taxers calling my
show hammered on the late-model SUVs that state employees are
driving. They told me about next-door neighbors who drive state
cars home each day for three-hour lunch breaks. For weeks, the
leading statewide story was a decision to pay the new head
librarian in Portland $25,000 more than her predecessor.
Days before Oregon’s election, Congress passed an $820
billion budget bill that covers 11 major departments of the federal
government for the budget year that was already 30 percent behind
us. How much of that $820 billion would be better spent on critical
services in states like Oregon? Beats me.
you’d have to know what was in this mega-immense spending
jumble. I don’t. I doubt anyone in Congress does.
Maybe it’s different where you live. But no one asked
Oregonians to vote on the near-$600 billion slated for "defense"
and Homeland Security, or the recent
$400-billion-oops-make-that-$535-billion Medicare "reform" package,
or the nearly $200 billion that supports corporate agribusiness
instead of family farmers.
We have, it seems, a different
role in today’s process: whipping ourselves and each other
into a frenzy over a raise for the county librarian. With no way to
get at the heart of government waste, voters take their imprecise
aggravation out on any and every ballot they’re handed.
Oregon’s Measure 30 is the latest, but it won’t be the
It’s time to unify activists from all the
states left twisting in the fiscal wind. We need a basic policy
position — say, a goal that, by 2010, one tax dollar will go
to local government for every one that goes to Washington.
This could be a natural centerpiece for the next national
meetings of state legislators, county commissioners and city
councilors. Organized labor could grab it and run, and so could 50
states’ worth of Chambers of Commerce, tourism bureaus,
parent-teacher organizations, Rotarians, Kiwanis, Shriners, Elks,
and Lions and Tigers and Bears.
Within a year,
well-prepared citizens could attend every public appearance of
every member of Congress in every district in America, with a
single message: Every one of us has a limited capacity for paying
taxes. When you Washington folks drain that capacity down to the
dregs with indiscriminate spending that no one seriously defends on
its merits, you’re shutting the door on our community’s
chance for a quality future. We can’t let you do that
I tried this notion out on a friend. "Kind of
biting off a lot to chew there, aren’t you?" she said.
Yes, I am. Is there a smaller bite that will work?