Oregon votes for taxes while Colorado stares again down the barrel of anti-government Doug Bruce ballot measures

The biggest Colorado political news today comes from Oregon, where voters looking to shore up the state’s declining public schools and social programs bucked populist anti-tax sentiment to pass two ballot initiatives that raise taxes on corporations and the wealthiest citizens of the state. This comes as lawmakers here faced with historic budget shortfalls and restricted in revenue-building by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights have yet to seriously propose asking citizens to vote for a tax hike of any sort. The news from Oregon is that you can ask voters to do that, boldly, and be successful, even in the face of today’s heated anti-government Tea Party rhetoric.

From Oregon Live:

Oregon voters bucked decades of anti-tax and anti-Salem sentiment Tuesday, raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy to prevent further erosion of public schools and other state services.

The tax measures passed easily, with late returns showing a 54 percent to 46 percent ratio. Measure 66 raises taxes on households with taxable income above $250,000, and Measure 67 sets higher minimum taxes on corporations and increases the tax rate on upper-level profits.

The results triggered waves of relief from educators and legislative leaders, who were facing an estimated $727 million shortfall in the current two-year budget if the measures failed.

Can Colorado educators and legislative leaders even imagine that kind of relief anymore?

But Coloradans are different than Oregonians. We’re wild-west libertarian small government lovers. We hate taxes. Alas, we’re not so different. This from the LA Times:

Oregon officials know all about anti-tax fervor.

Over the years, voters here have capped property taxes (saddling the state with two-thirds the cost of running the schools) and passed a constitutional amendment requiring rebates whenever tax receipts come in 2% over budget. Nine times they have been asked to OK a sales tax — and said no. Proposals to increase the state income tax? Down in flames twice.

In mail-in voting that ends today, Oregon is considering measures to raise taxes on households earning $250,000 or more and on individuals earning at least $125,000, as well as hike corporate taxes. About 39,000 of the state’s 1.5 million taxpayers would be subject to the higher tax, and some big companies could see their annual bills go from $10 to $100,000.

The success or failure of Measures 66 and 67 will be a concrete test — one of the few in the country this year — of how willing voters are to accept tax increases targeted at those theoretically best equipped to pay them.

The measures in Oregon passed by a wide margin. More details from Oregon Live:

Within 15 minutes of the polls closing, counties around the state released a flood of vote counts and it became clear that both measures had passed… There was deep support elsewhere around the state… even in more conservative areas, support was stronger than expected.

Tuesday’s strong support also validated a strategy by Democratic lawmakers to single out the rich and corporations for targeted tax increases.

Campaign ads by supporters highlighted banks and credit card companies and showed images of well-dressed people stepping off private jets. They also hammered on the $10 minimum tax that most corporations have paid since its inception in 1931.

Those messages helped counter warnings by opponents that the taxes would lead to job losses, worsening the state’s 11 percent unemployment rate, and prompt wealthy residents to move elsewhere.

Doug Bruce
Doug Bruce

Meantime, Colorado stares down the barrel of three tax-slashing measures aimed at cutting additional billions from the state’s anemic coffers. It is increasingly clear the measures are the work of controversial anti-government ideologue Doug Bruce, disgraced lawmaker and author of the decades-old Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Signatures gathered at Tea Party rallies have guaranteed the initiatives will appear on the ballot in the fall. Gov. Bill Ritter’s office openly refers to the proposals as the “anti-society initiatives.” He told the Colorado Independent that they would dramatically alter government here, already one of the leanest state governments in the country. “Something would simply have to fall away,” he said.

The Colorado Republican lawmakers who have gone on also criticized the proposals. But many have not gone on the record, including candidate for governor Scott McInnis. Legislative leaders told the Denver Post that there is embittered sympathy for the initiatives.

House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, and Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, both have ripped the measures as badly written and harmful to the state.

But May… said the ballot measures stir anger among other members of his caucus, who blame the governor and Democrats for them. Democrats have been raising fees and spending so much, they have stirred up the activists who sponsored the ballot proposals, May said.

“I think there’s some sympathy on our side to say, ‘See what you guys have done?’ ” he said.

Penry agreed, saying Ritter, through fee increases and other policies, “has made a mockery of TABOR.”

The Oregon state government needs money. Lawmakers asked citizens to raise taxes. Citizens voted to raise taxes. Imagine!

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