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PICKING UP THE TAB

Will the City's Homeless and Hungry Pay for Sizemore's Tax Reductions?

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THIS YEAR, a handful of Bill Sizemore-sponsored voter initiatives pledge to save taxpayers' money and give wage-earners more control over their paychecks. But social service providers around the state have begun to paint a bleak vision of the future: These bills will simply shift the burden of taxes away from individuals and squarely onto the shoulders of those who can least afford them--the state's homeless, hungry, and disadvantaged populations.Ballot Measure 88 increases the amount of money taxpayers can deduct from their state taxes based on the money paid for federal taxes. These deductions could reduce the overall state budget as much as 30 percent. If this happens, claims Bob Durston from the office of City Commissioner Erik Sten, budgets for government programs for homeless, low-income housing, and criminal reform programs are the most likely candidates to be cut.

According to Kim Thomas, public policy manager for Oregon Food Bank, the effects of Sizemore's bill will reverberate towards the independent social service providers. "We are supposed to be the safety net under the safety net," explained Thomas. Explaining that Oregon Food Bank provides resources when governmental agencies cannot, Thomas went on to caution that they are not set up to handle the additional demands if the state programs shrink.

Worse still, claim program directors for social services, Sizemore has set up a double whammy: At the same time that cuts in the state budget will send the needy fleeing to independent organizations, Sizemore's other two bills, Measure 92 and 98, may constrict the lifeblood of donations to these same organizations. These initiatives prohibit organizations like United Way and labor unions from receiving donations from payroll deductions if that organization takes part in any political activities.

Oregon Food Bank, for example, advocates for legislative measures that would help eliminate hunger around the state. Thus, under Measure 92 or 98, they would not be eligible for payroll donations without an individual first signing a permission slip. But, according to Becky Miller, Executive Director of Oregon Taxpayers Association, the sponsor of all three bills, such speculation shifts the focus away from the central issue--"whether money should be taken from payrolls." In early polling, Oregon voters favor restrictions on payroll deduction by a margin of 2 to 1.

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