12-10-2016  12:29 pm      •     

SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- Democratic state Rep. Judy Stiegler of Bend knows she's on a hit list of sorts -- one being drawn up by Oregon Republicans -- for her vote in favor of a $733 million tax increase on corporations and upper-income individuals.
"I fully expect that it's something they will use against me in next year's campaign. Absolutely," the Central Oregon lawmaker said.
The same holds true for state Rep. Betty Komp, D-Woodburn, who knows she will have to defend her pro-tax hike votes to constituents in her largely agricultural district in Oregon's Willamette Valley.
Komp said her stance likely will cost her some votes in 2010, although both she and Stiegler say they are ready to defend the tax increases as necessary to prevent ruinous cuts to schools, public safety and social safety net programs.
"I will be at people's doorsteps, telling them the reason I ran for office was to make sure that every child in Oregon can get a good education," said Komp, a former teacher and school administrator.
It looks all but certain that Oregonians will be voting in a special election in January on whether to uphold the $733 million tax package approved by the Democratic-led Legislature. Opponents on Friday turned in what they said were more than enough petition signatures to force a referendum vote on the taxes.
Oregon House Republicans are looking beyond the January vote and are hoping to use anti-tax sentiment as their top campaign issue against swing-district House Democrats who backed the tax hikes.
They say the tax increases have fired up the GOP base like no other issue has in years, particularly in a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Government should cut spending, not raise taxes, Republicans say.
"Voters are just fed up with government. They think these tax increases are just a poke in the eye," said House Republican Leader Bruce Hanna of Roseburg.
The anti-tax campaign being planned by Hanna and the House GOP is similar to one by national Republicans who are hoping to win back some seats in Congress by running against a perceived spending spree by Democratic-controlled Washington, including health care reform.
In Oregon, Republicans know it's highly unlikely they could retake control of the House in 2010. Democrats now rule the chamber by a commanding 36-24 margin over Republicans.
The GOP believes, however, it has a good chance to knock off at least a few incumbents so that Democrats no longer will have a "supermajority" that enables them to pass taxes without Republican votes.
Hanna won't identify all of the House districts on the GOP's list where the party plans to devote extra time and money trying to elect a Republican.
"We will be after seats where the incumbent Democrat most drastically veered away from the representation that that district's constituents expected," the Roseburg lawmaker said.
Democrats in marginal swing districts aren't the only ones being targeted. Two Republicans who crossed party lines to help the majority Democrats pass the income taxes could be feeling the heat as well.
A Republican-leaning agricultural group called Oregonians for Food and Shelter already has lined up a challenger to oppose Rep. Greg Smith of Heppner in the May GOP primary.
And there are rumblings that a primary challenger is being recruited to take on the other Republican who crossed party lines -- Rep. Bob Jenson of Pendleton.
"I have never seen our grassroots so coalesced or energized by an issue," said Paulette Pyle, a Salem lobbyist who represents the agricultural group. "Our people already are pinching pennies. They can't afford to pay any more."
Faced with a shortfall in the state's tax- and lottery-backed general fund budget, the majority Democrats enacted the two tax measures as a way to protect schools, public safety and social services from cuts in the current two-year budget.
One of the measures increases corporate income taxes, and the other increases personal income taxes for individuals with more than $125,000 in taxable income or households earning more than $250,000.
The leader of the House Democrats' campaign organization, Michele Rossolo, said Democrats are ready to defend against Republican attacks on lawmakers who supported the tax package.
"I say, 'Bring it on,'" Rossolo said. "This package is exactly what we ran on in the 2008 election" in which Democrats gained five seats in the House and attained "supermajority" status.
Most Oregonians support the idea of forcing big corporations to pay their fair share of the state's tax burden while protecting education and other vital state services from cuts, she said. Republicans, she said, "are campaigning to protect big corporations and wealthy individuals."
Portland pollster Tim Hibbitts said it's too early to predict how big a factor the tax hikes might be in next year's House races.
"But it definitely does have the potential to have legs as a campaign issue in some of the swing districts in the fall 2010 elections," especially if the economy is still in the doldrums by then, Hibbitts said.

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