Oregon Votes on Higher Taxes for Rich, Businesses

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businesses getting taxedWith a surge of last-minute votes expected, Oregon will decide Tuesday whether to impose higher taxes on businesses and people whose income is well into six figures.

Polling suggests the results on Measures 66 and 67 will be close, and the outcome may depend on turnout.

The stakes in the struggle between business interests and public employee unions are high — the revenue from the two measures is expected to account for about 5.5 percent of the state’s general fund budget over the next two years.

Opponents of the taxes say draining the money from private hands would damage the state’s economy, still hurting from a recession and downturns in sectors such as construction, real estate and manufacturing that have boosted the state’s unemployment rate to 11 percent.

Supporters say the money was part of a package including federal stimulus dollars and reserve withdrawals that kept the Legislature from cutting the budget further. They say losing it will mean more job cuts and larger classes in schools, and more suffering among those dependent on public services.

Secretary of State Kate Brown predicts that 62 percent of the 2 million registered voters will have mailed in or dropped off their ballots by the time counting begins.

When Oregon voters gave up polling places in 2000, many of them sent their ballots by mail. Now, Brown said, more are waiting until the last minute and then, when it’s too late for the Postal Service to deliver, dropping their ballots in deposit boxes at courthouses and other public places.

“We’ve seen them hold onto their ballots longer, usually resulting in a large spike the weekend before election day, and on election day itself,” Brown said.

If she’s right, then the ballots of about one in six Oregonians will have arrived in the final days of voting. The deadline to submit ballots is 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The latest figures on the secretary of state’s Web site put the turnout figure, as of Saturday, at 45 percent. Fresher figures were expected Tuesday.

The most closely watched number will be in Portland’s Multnomah County, a bastion of liberals whose turnout was last among the counties, at 41 percent.

Polling results suggest that raising taxes on the earnings of the wealthy is more popular than raising taxes on business, and raised the possibility that one tax might be approved and the other fail.

Measure 66, on income taxes, was winning approval 50-44 in a poll conducted last week for Oregon Public Broadcasting, Fox 12 TV and the Portland Tribune.

The higher business taxes at issue in Measure 67 also were winning approval. But the results at 48-45 were short of majority approval and within the margin of error of the poll, plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. The poll was of 500 likely voters.

Compared with the results from a similar poll a week earlier, the margins had shrunk and support for the taxes had dropped, as pollster Tim Hibbitts of Portland predicted.

SOURCE: The Associated Press (c) 2010