Belt-Tightening in Oregon As Voters Reject Sales Tax

OREGONIANS this week soundly defeated a sales-tax measure designed to head off the budgetary impact of an earlier vote to limit property taxes.

Lawmakers and Gov. Barbara Roberts (D) now wonder what to do next. But one thing is for sure: After nine defeats in 60 years and a 3-to-1 loss this time, there will be no attempt to reintroduce the measure anytime soon. ``Even white rats learn faster than that,'' says former state Senate president John Kitzhaber, who recently announced his bid to challenge Governor Roberts in the Democratic primary next May. (Both Mr. Kitzhaber and Ms. Roberts favored the sales tax.)

As a result of property-tax cuts approved in 1990 and now being phased in, Oregon schools have had to do serious belt-tightening despite extra financial help that's been coming from state coffers. With the defeat of the sales tax, local school districts and now state agencies (absent any new source of revenue) will have to cut even more. A hike in income taxes seems unlikely since Oregon already has the fifth highest tax on personal income in the country.

Financial uncertainty here is further complicated in that Oregon's population, while relatively small (3 million), is growing at twice the national average. When California, Oregon's giant neighbor to the south, sharply cut property taxes 15 years ago, it had a financial cushion to at least delay the blow to schools. Oregon lacks that cushion. Meanwhile, the bulk of newcomers to the state come from California.

In other Oregon elections, two suburban communities approved anti-gay- rights measures. This brings to 15 the number of cities and counties in the state that have passed such measures since a harsher statewide initiative forbidding ``special rights'' for homosexuals and declaring homosexuality to be ``unnatural and perverse'' was defeated last year. (Although it lost, that measure won 43 percent of the vote despite strong campaigning by opponents from around the country.)

The recent local anti-gay- rights measures have been sponsored by the Oregon Citizens Alliance, which is allied with evangelist Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition. Supporters see significance in this week's victories since earlier votes had all been in traditionally conservative rural areas. Tuesday, cities just outside Portland and the state capitol at Salem said ``no'' to gay rights. Packwood Sinks in Polls

More Oregonians also are saying ``no'' to Bob Packwood, the Republican US senator charged with sexual misconduct by more than two dozen former staff members and campaign workers. A new poll commissioned by the Portland Oregonian shows a 54 percent majority say Mr. Packwood should resign. In October, a 48 percent plurality of those polled said he should not quit.

This is the first time since the misconduct charges were made public just after Packwood was reelected a year ago that more than half of those polled say they want him out of office. The major news in the Packwood story between the October and November polls was the Senate's 94-to-6 vote ordering him to turn over his personal diaries.

Those diaries reportedly include information not only about the alleged sexual misconduct episodes but also about the efforts Packwood made to solicit lobbyists for a job for his wife. And Newsweek magazine is reporting this week that an unidentified woman soon will add her name to those charging the senator with unwanted sexual advances. This would make the 29th woman to accuse Packwood of ethical misconduct.

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