Monday, May 15, 2017

Anti-tax movement in rural Oregon leads counties to lose law enforcement, jails, libraries

Southwestern Oregon
Rural residents in southwest Oregon have been waging an anti-tax battle that they say is a fight against government interference and wasteful spending, Kirk Johnson reports for The New York Times. But a refusal to approve any new taxes has cost some counties important local services.

Budget cuts in Curry County to the sheriff's departments have eliminated round-the-clock staffing, meaning there's no one to take calls at night, Johnson writes. "In Josephine County, the jail has been defunded after nine consecutive defeats of public safety tax levies, leading to a policy of catch-and-release for nonviolent criminals."

All 11 branches of the Douglas County library system will be closed by June 1, because residents "voted down a ballot measure that would have added about $6 a month to the tax bill on a median-priced home and saved the libraries from a funding crisis," Johnson writes.

"Demographic and economic changes in this swath of the Pacific Northwest, where thick forests brush down to the rocky Pacific Coast, have given the tax resistance movement its backbone," Johnson notes. "Retirees who came in recent years for the low housing costs or the conservative political culture have become a major voting bloc. And the tech jobs that are fueling growth in Portland, a three-hour drive north, are mostly just a dream."

"But what is even more significant is that for many years, timber-harvesting operations on public lands here paid the bills, and people got used to it,' Johnson reports. "A law passed by Congress in the 1930s specified that a vast swath of forest lands that had passed into corporate hands and back into federal control would be managed for county benefit. But then logging declined, starting in the 1980s and 1990s, as it did across many other parts of the West, and the flood of timber money slowed to a trickle, with only a stunted tax base to pick up the difference. The property tax rate in Curry County is less than a quarter of the statewide average. Douglas County residents pay about 60 percent less than most state residents. Oregon has no state sales tax, and also limits some property tax growth rates, through laws passed in the 1990s."

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