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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Mercury: Getting Answers for YouTM

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Tue, Dec 16, 2008 at 4:20 PM

Last week we announced that the news team would sleuth any good questions you've got lying around. Immediately, tax-loving reader Zach brought up an issue that caught my eye, too:

Who decides on the design for the envelopes that the ballots come in? My
envelope has "CONTAINS VOTE ON PROPOSED TAX INCREASE" written on the front. It has the largest font out of all the text, besides the "Official election mail" graphic. Having this on the
front seems... questionable? Why doesn't it say "CONTAINS VOTE ON PROPOSED
SCHOOL FUNDING CUTS." Or maybe even "CONTAINS VOTE FOR THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, DUMBASS!"

Questionable indeed! Turns out the OMG TAX stamp can be traced back to (who else?) Bill Sizemore. Part of his only ballot measure victory which was never overturned as unconstitutional - 1996's Measure 47 - capped property tax increases at three percent a year, required a double majority vote for all tax increases and demanded that the phrase "CONTAINS VOTE ON PROPOSED TAX INCREASE" be printed "clearly and boldly printed in red" on every voting envelope. This all stems from the fear that counties are slipping through tax increases during "sneaker elections" — off year or special elections in which few people vote. So now it's tax in your face!

"This is part of the longstanding complicated relationship between Oregonians and property taxes," says Defend Oregon's Scott Moore. I thought Moore would commiserate with Zach over the blood-red tax font, etc., but instead he said he'd found the tax stamp helpful in some ways. One of the strongest arguments against this year's Measure 56 (which basically repealed the "doubled majority" part of M47) was that double majorities were essential to avoid sneaky taxes. Moore found that when the tax is printed clearly and boldly on the envelope, it's hard to argue that elections really sneak right by.

Point being: anyone who wants to get together and write up a ballot measure demanding "GIVE MONEY TO SCHOOLS" or "CHEESEBURGER CHEESEBURGER CHEESEBURGER" on every envelope, I'll bring the cookies to your meeting.

send questions and cheeseburgers to news[at]portlandmercury.com

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