Oregon voters pick higher taxes over service cuts

Here's something you don't see everyday: Oregon voters decided to keep a big tax increase enacted by their state legislature. Oregonians approved two ballot measures allowing the state to raise $727 million in revenue. The new taxes will help deal with a $4 billion hole in the state budget.

Oregonians voted to keep taxes enacted by Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski in July, according to a count of ballots cast by more than half of the state’s registered voters. Measure 66, which raises taxes on households earning $250,000 or more, passed by 54 percent. Measure 67, which increases corporate levies, garnered favor of 53 percent.

By targeting businesses and the wealthy, proponents parried resistance from voters who twice defeated tax increases in the wake of the 2001 recession.

“It’s a go-after-the-rich strategy,” said John Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “It shows that some voters have switched their minds and they’re more likely to go after the rich.”

The two ballot measures did not pass without a protracted campaign by special interests on both sides. Unlike Pennsylvania, where natural gas and tobacco companies dodged additional levies during the budget debate, opponents of the new taxes in Oregon were unable to win over the majority of the public.

Backers of the tax drew support from public employee unions and emphasized the blow a defeat would represent for schools, health care and public safety programs.

“How do you protect the middle class?” said Kevin Looper, who ran the campaign to pass the measures. “The only way you can afford to do that is to tax those who can afford to pay.”

We'll be curious to see if this vote turns out to have implications for Pennsylvania and other states.

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