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Lane county Oregon: Ben Pooler leads tax protest

By Andy Peterson

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Ben Pooler Forum and Contact for "We Said No"

Lane County Commissioners are taking their concerns over the secure rural schools act to Washington, D.C. They're trying to get back the $40 million that they would have to cut from their budgets.

Meanwhile, angry taxpayers are speaking out about the income tax the commissioners passed to fill the hole.

Protestors Friday night are taking their message to the masses. They've lined the Harlow Road overpass, over Interstate Five, waving signs to the traffic below. It's all part of a concerted effort to stop the new tax before it starts.

"I just found something that really steamed me, you know?" explains Ben Pooler of Eugene. "And the irritation factor of what they did, behind our backs, basically."

Ben Pooler says he's had enough. He and a half dozen co-workers are organizing a fight against the county income tax passed by Lane County Commissioners on Wednesday.

But that's not the only way that people are getting involved. Plenty of citizens are calling Lane County Elections, interested in taking their anger out through a vote -- both to see the tax overturned, and the commissioners who voted for it sent packing.

"We're giving them some basic information," explains Lane County Elections Supervisor Roxann Marshall. "We're asking that they either come in and pick up the manual that addresses that, or they can obtain that manual through the Secretary of State's web site."

"There was still plenty of time to do this; the new tax isn't supposed to go into effect until July 1st," explains rally co-organizer Bob Hooker. "There was no reason this couldn't have gone on the ballot in a special election in May, let the people vote on it."

County Intergovernmental Relations Manager Tony Bieda disagrees. He says that, to cut costs, the county would have to give pink slips to employees as early as mid-April, leaving workers to twist in the wind while they waited for a May election.

"When you have employees in turmoil, on the edge of their seat, worried about where their next paycheck's going to come from," Bieda says, "they're not really focused on being productive members of an organization."

But these folks say it's not so much the tax, but the principle behind it, that's got them all fired up.

"I've never been a protestor, I've never organized a protest, any kind of rally or anything like that. But it's time we stood up."

The folks at Lane County Elections say that no petitions have been filed yet. But Ben Pooler says his group has already started circulating such a petition. Organizers would need 5577 signatures to get their referendum on a ballot.

Thousands sign petition to bring county tax to vote

By Andrea Damewood The Register-Guard

Published: Sunday, March 11, 2007

Upset over the controversial income tax enacted by county commissioners, thousands of Lane County residents voiced just one question on Saturday: "When's the recall?"

Signatures in all shades of ballpoint pen accumulated quickly during a one-day signature gathering drive by the "We Said No" committee, which spearheaded petitioning efforts to bring the tax to voters.

But many county denizens - both Republican and Democrat, rural and urban - who kept eight petition sites bustling from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. wanted more than a chance to vote the tax down.

"Everybody has wanted to sign a recall," said Mary Pooler, wife of chief petitioner Ben Pooler, as she helped run a petition site underneath tents outside Graffiti Alley on River Road. "I've had people from all parties talk to me ... the public is more upset than even I realized."

While an official tally won't be available until later today, chief petitioner Bob Hooker said he believes that his committee easily cleared the 5,577 valid signatures required to bring the tax to a vote as early as September or November.

The "We Said No" campaign formed shortly after commissioners Bill Dwyer, Faye Stewart and Bobby Green, citing a possible loss of $20 million annually in federal money to the county, voted to create a 1.1 percent income tax in late February.

The commissioners' action came on the heels of a county income tax that voters turned down in the fall election.

"We told them in November, 'We don't want it,' and now they turn around and jam it down our throats," 75-year-old Jack Miller of Walterville said as shouts and applause rang out from those around him at a signature collection site at Immanuel Baptist Church in Springfield.

"Let's get enough people to go and vote out all those bums - that's all they are, they're a bunch of bums."

Since the commissioners enacted the tax, Oregon's federal lawmakers have crafted a war-spending bill that would extend the critical funding to timber counties for one more year. But the bill's fate is uncertain: It calls for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2008 and could face a veto from President Bush.

Some commissioners said this week that if the federal bill passes, they will repeal the local tax or bring it to the voters.

Still, most people signing on Saturday said that no matter the outcome, the petition is a way to voice their concerns about what they see as an undemocratic tax.

"The Constitution says 'We the people,' not 'We the politicians' or 'We the commissioners,' " Valerie Anne said as she collected names at Immanuel Baptist.

John Corliss of Springfield took to waving a sign along Game Farm Road reading "We Said NO," to draw passers-by.

"We want to give a message to our county government that no, is no, is no," Corliss said. "It's a message when a lot of us come out on a rainy day like this to sign our concerns about the state."

Though petitioning was held at sites in Junction City, Florence, Eugene, Venta and Springfield, many people had to drive some distance to add their names to the list.

Coburg resident Bob Smith made a drive into Eugene twice on Saturday - once to sign himself, and again to bring his 23-year-old daughter, Tracy.

Both generations cited a need for the county to balance its budget, and Bob Smith added that the county should cut social services rather than ask for more money.

"The job of government should be protection and education," he said. "They are attacking the wrong end of the budget."

Peggy de Montmorency of Eugene also thought the county should focus on vital services by cutting spending for parks and other nonessentials.

While she voted against the county's tax in November, de Montmorency said she does vote for "taxes that make sense," such as the Eugene Public Library levy.

Dwyer, Stewart and Green should have paid heed to their constituents from the start, and now face political consequences, she said.

"They've had their orders from the people, and they didn't listen," de Montmorency said.

"People who don't listen don't represent me."