Oregon Taxpayers United
The Oregon tax revolt is a political movement in Oregon which advocates for lower taxes. This movement is part of a larger anti-tax movement in the western United States. The tax revolt has been carried out in large part by a series of citizen's initiatives and referenda.
Inspired in part by Proposition 13 in the neighboring state of California, Oregon voters placed limits to property tax in the Oregon Constitution in 1990 with the passage of Oregon Ballot Measure 5. Voters were frustrated by the increase in property taxes attributed to rapidly rising property values in the Portland area. Some attribute this home price inflation to an influx of population in the Portland metro area, which is surrounded by an urban growth boundary that limits the supply of developable land. Others observe that the situation was much more complex, pointing to the loose monetary policy pursued by Alan Greenspan, including adjustments to the CPI that measured homeowners equivalent rent instead of actual home price, a recovering economy in the region, and numerous other factors.
However, even with the caps on property taxes, the continual increase in property values in Portland, exacerbated by the effects of Measure 5, brought higher tax bills for some residents. This led to Sizemore's Measure 47, which attempted to cap the annual rate at which property taxes could rise. Measure 47 also instituted Oregon's double majority rule, in which local tax levies could only pass in minor elections when voter turnout surpassed half of the registered voters. In November 1996, Measure 47 was passed by the Oregon voters 53.3% to 48.7%. Problems with the legal wording of Measure 47 caused the Oregon Legislature to send Measure 50 to voters in 1997, which clarified Measure 47. During a special election in May 1997, Measure 50 was approved by the voters 55.7% to 44.3%.
The tax revolt manifested itself in a series of budget battles in the Oregon Legislature about school funding, the Oregon Health Plan, and other spending priorities during the late 1990s. Then Governor John Kitzhaber and the Republican leadership in the legislature clashed repeatedly over budget priorities.
Ballot initiatives in 2000
In 2000, Don McIntire helped place Measure 8 on Oregon's ballot, which would have limited state spending to 15 percent of personal income for the previous biennium. Measure 8 was defeated by a margin of 43.5% to 56.5%. However, in the same election Oregonians enshrined the so-called "kicker check"--a biannual check given to taxpayers in the event that state revenues exceed forecasts--into the state constitution with Measure 86 which was passed by the voters 62% to 38%.
Ballot initiatives in 2003 and 2004
Setbacks caused by legal challenges
Bill Sizemore's group ran into legal problems in 2002. Sizemore sparked the ire of several public employees labor unions with a series of initiatives aimed at reducing public employee pensions and reducing their political power. The unions responded with the Voter Education Project, which tracked signature gatherers hired by Sizemore to place measures on the ballot. After documenting instances of fraud by signature gatherers, the Oregon Education Association, a teachers' union, sued Sizemore's organization under racketeering laws in 2003.
The $2.3 million judgment against Oregon Taxpayers United hurt Sizemore's ability to put measures on the ballot in 2004 and 2006. However, the financial judgments were overturned in late 2006 and Sizemore in early 2007 roared back into activity with a series of new ballot initiatives.
Tax activists generally claim that Oregon's government is wasteful and inefficient, arguing that the government could do better with less. They often highlight programs that they feel are unnecessary. Opponents of the tax revolt argue that passing tax decreases via ballot measure leads to short-sighted policy making, in which voters are enticed to vote with the revolt by lower tax bills and without thinking about the budget problems caused by reduced revenues.
- Oregon Taxpayers United Official website
- Embattled anti-tax advocate Bill Sizemore under fire again (dead link)
- Taxpayer Association of Oregon
- Oregon Territory program on the tax revolt Part 1 [http://www.opb.org/programs/oregonterritory/audio/20031107b.m3u Part 2
- Fund Oregon's Future Today
- The Great Tax Revolt of 1994 from Reason Magazine