The Lane County income tax drama, though at uncertain status at the moment, is worth watching as an indicator of what people are thinking about taxes these days . With big state budget increases likely on the way in Oregon and Washington, it may suggest the public mood to come.
That proposal from Eugene isn't the result of a budget increase, but rather of a funding cutback, the loss of about $20 million in federal funds the county ordinarily could expect from federal timber lands payments. (Some other counties in southwestern Oregon are even worse hit.) That would mean the loss of about 300 county jobs and a lot of public service activity. Oregon's members of Congress have been at work on a restoration, but its future is shaky.
The Lane County Commission's response to the shortfall, on February 21, was to approve a county-level income tax of 1.1%, the first such ever in Oregon. The commission was closely split, 3-2; the minority, including 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Sorenson, wanted the measure placed on the ballot rather than imposed by the commission. Part of the reason is that area voters last fall rejected another income tax proposal.
It may be going to the ballot anyway. On Saturday, tax critics circulated petitions proposing the tax plan be placed on a May ballot, and those petitions picked up 6,539 signatures in their first day. Since 5,577 valid signatures are needed, the odds it will reach the ballot are good. (If the issue lasts that long; commissioners said they are sufficiently encouraged with congressional action that they may pull the plan.)
The tax proposal has outraged at least a part of the Eugene community. From Sunday's Register-Guard:
"Upset over the controversial income tax enacted by county commissioners, thousands of Lane County residents voiced just one question on Saturday: 'When's the recall?' Signatures in all shades of ballpoint pen accumulated quickly during a one-day signature gathering drive by the 'We Said No' committee, which spearheaded petitioning efforts to bring the tax to voters. But many county denizens - both Republican and Democrat, rural and urban - who kept eight petition sites bustling from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. wanted more than a chance to vote the tax down. 'Everybody has wanted to sign a recall,' said Mary Pooler, wife of chief petitioner Ben Pooler, as she helped run a petition site underneath tents outside Graffiti Alley on River Road. 'I've had people from all parties talk to me ... the public is more upset than even I realized.'"
Worth keeping an eye on.