Oregon Supreme Court justices

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-The Oregon Supreme Court has tweaked language for two ballot measures aimed at raising $733 million from higher taxes on businesses and high-income earners.

Measure 66 and Measure 67 will be on Oregon's statewide ballot in a January special election.

On Friday, the state's high court ruled that there should be some minor changes to the ballot measures' language, siding only slightly with Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, which filed a challenge to the ballot language. They had sought much broader changes.

At issue were the ballot titles written by a joint Senate and House legislative committee led by Democrats. In both Measure 66 and Measure 67 there is an identical sentence: "Maintains funds currently budgeted for education, health care, public safety, other services."

Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes had asked the justices to remove the sentence in its entirety. Instead, the justices opted to kept the sentence while ordering that the word "maintains" be changed to "provides." The unanimous opinion by Justice Robert Durham directed the ballot language to state Attorney General John Kroger for modification.

"The court agreed with petitioners that the explanatory statement's use of the term 'maintain funds currently budgeted' renders the explanatory statement insufficient and unclear," the high court said. "The court therefore replaced the word 'maintain' with the correct word, 'provide.' The Court referred the ballot title to the attorney general for modification and certified the explanatory statement to the secretary of state."

The measures are supported by Defend Oregon, which warns that the measures' defeat could mean deep cuts in state services, including education.

Proponents say the ballot measures are aimed at helping to stave off in future economic downturns the type of deep funding cuts lawmakers made during the 2001-03 recession, when state revenues plummeted.

Fighting their defeat is Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, a coalition of industry and business groups, including local chambers of commerce.

As the group's name says, they believe that the measures will cost jobs in the state, where unemployment has topped 12 percent, more than two percent higher than the national average.

"According to economists, these taxes would cost 70,000 Oregonians their jobs, and lead to cutbacks in wages and benefits, and trigger higher prices impacting all Oregonians, whether or not their personal taxes rise," the group says on its Web site.

In a study released last week, the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States ranked Oregon among the 10 states in the greatest "fiscal peril." The think tank gave the Beaver State a "C+" grade for its economic stability.

Frequently blamed for Oregon's fiscal woes is its unique kicker law, which requires that when state tax receipts exceed official projections by two-percent or more, unanticipated gross revenues must be returned to taxpayers at the end of the two-year budget cycle.

In the case of individuals, rebate checks are given; corporations, however, receive a credit toward the following year's tax bill.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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