Taxpayers Association of Oregon: Right-wing, partisan hacks

Jon Isaacs

By Jon Isaacs of Portland, Oregon. Jon is the campaign director for FuturePAC, the campaign committee for the Oregon House Democrats.

I have two nominations for organizations with the most misleading names: Oregonians for Food and Shelter and the Taxpayers Association of Oregon. The first is a PR front for the pesticides industry (I'll deal with them another day). The other is the laughably named 'Taxpayers Association of Oregon,' or the TAO.

The following would be far more accurate names for the TAO:

* Campaign to Destroy Vital Public Services
* Corporate Special Interests Advocates Inc.
* Lapdogs of the Rich and Selfish
* Republican Campaign Message Front (my favorite)

The 'Taxpayers Association of Oregon' recently distributed a report to all legislators, touting 175 ways to Balance the State Budget 'without new taxes.' A state-by-state analysis accompanied the report, showing trends in spending by state governments in 2003. The authors of the analysis are none other than the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing organization whose self-proclaimed mission is 'to advance the principles of free markets, limited government, federalism and individual liberty among America's state legislators.'

Side note: Notice how virtually every ultraconservative policy organization espouses principles that are code for corporate greed ('free markets'), getting rid of vital public services ('limited government'), and channeling more money to the rich ('individual liberty').

Not surprisingly, the writers of the report (PDF) love the Bush family strongholds of Texas and Florida. And needless to say, the TAO's website mercilessly trashes Oregon's 'out of control government spending.'

Let's take a closer look, however, at the report issued by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the TAO website.

The ALEC state-by-state analysis points to $8.6 billion in spending cuts made by all state governments in FY 2003. The report shows that Oregon was responsible for $2.018 billion of those cuts.

You heard that right folks. Little old Oregon was responsible for almost 25 percent of all cuts to state government spending in FY 2003. Our friendly neighbor to the South, California, with 10 times our population, accounted for a measly $1.29 billion in cuts. In addition, Oregon reduced its borrowing by $283 million. You would almost expect the Taxpayers Association of Oregon to give the state an award for a job well done!

The same report shows that Texans and Florida were fiscal disasters in 2003. The two states increased spending by a combined $3.6 billion, and increased borrowing by $5.93 billion'a total increase of approximately $9.5 billion!

As if TAO's credibility needed more pounding, its website contains a feature called the 'Oregon Budget Fact Center.' Located here is a preposterous attempt to characterize Oregon's budget as spiraling out of control. The organization lumps lottery funds, 'all funds, and general funds altogether, while ignoring the $27 billion in tax money that Oregon gives back to corporations and wealthy taxpayers in the form of credits, exemptions and other loopholes. The TAO misleads by including funds the legislature does not have the ability to cut. In fact, most of these additional funds (lottery money and fees) are based on a 'user pays' philosophy that the 'Taxpayers Association of Oregon' promotes.

The obvious question for the TAO is, 'Which is it? Did Oregon cut spending by approximately $2 billion in FY 2003, as the ALEC analysis shows? Or is Oregon the bloated mess you claim it is?' Are Texas and Florida really models of 'limited government,' or are they the fiscal disasters that the ALEC analysis indicates?

One must ask, What's the TAO's real purpose, anyway?

Forgive me if I find it suspicious that TAO and its rabid right-wing cohorts criticize the size of Oregon's government, even though the Governor has done exactly what the organization advocates: cut state spending drastically. The fact is, Ted Kulongoski is a Democrat who has proved to be strongest budget cutter in America, if you believe the ALEC study. And being a Democratic governor, he deserves only the scorn and ridicule of the credibility-challenged TAO.

If Florida and Texas are paragons of limited government, as the TAO and ALEC insist, then the surf's up in Omaha.

  • (Show?)

    I think "Republicans for Clean Air" might be disappointed at their exclusion from your list of Orwellian named right-wing front groups.

  • Edward (unverified)

    I'm in complete agreement. Two things really get my goat about the "Taxpayers Association" and similar groups.

    The first is that these types of groups seem to get regular coverage in the newsmedia. Journalists have come to rely on them too much for the easy go-to quote. But labelling the group just by its name is inherently misleading to the average reader/viewere (which is what newspapers and t.v. claim to cater to).

    Second, these groups hammer home the message that taxes are too high. For a person whose paycheck is only $1,000, who sees 6.2% going to soc. sec. and FICA on top of other income tax deductions, yeah taxes are way too high for that guy. So he votes for the TAO's candidate, who then "cuts taxes" on the rich, which only passes more of the burden on to the guy who only gets a $1,000 paycheck. And mr. $1,000 paycheck keeps believing the TAO and keeps getting used by these hacks. Nice.

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    Think tanks and misinformation are key elements of the right-wing strategy to dominate this country, Oregon included. The best thing bloggers and other internet-savvy people can do right now to diminish the impact of conservative think tanks and their propaganda is to call out journalists and other media figures when they quote, rely on, or otherwise propagate think tank lies.

    Many journalists, as noted, do rely on think tanks for the easy quote from a close-at-hand expert. Many have no idea that an agenda is being pushed and that they are tools of that agenda. We need to inform these people of the role they play in perpetuating the right-wing propaganda machine. That means emailing them when they cite right-wing thinkers, numbers, reports, etc., and reminding (or informing) them of what the think tank stands for, which partisan angle it is pushing, why its misinformation is distorted and false, and where the journalist can find more reliable, accurate, neutral information in the future. A great source of such information is Oregon's own Oregon Center for Public Policy, a slender reed standing in the face of the Republican noise machine. We need to do more if we are to successfully inform the Oregon media, government, and citizens of the truth, and dispel the lies.

  • PanchoPdx (unverified)


    The FuturePac campaign director has the temerity to self-righteously label his ideological opponents "partisan hacks"?

    Guess it takes one to know one.

  • MarkDaMan (unverified)

    Edward - I think you are WAY off blaming the problems of this state on the $1000 a paycheck guy. I happen to be a not much more than a $1000 a paycheck guy myself and have enthusiastically supported additional taxes for schools, public safety, parks...blah, blah, blah. Even though I lived in WashCo when the MultCo surcharge passed, I moved back into Portland so I could continue to pay what I consider to be my fair share as a state of Oregon resident. I want nothing more than to see our state become a top tier desitnation for families and the companies that support them.

    I am also only 23, struggling to get through college (self-financed), and TRY to live from measly paycheck to paycheck. I know several other "low-income" workers trying to make their way in this world that also supported MultCo and their taxes through this latest repeal attempt. I also know my father, a well over $1000 a paycheck guy, doesn't support the surcharge even though he has school aged children in our public schools. I know that the opposition to additional taxes on the capitol steps in Salem aren't the $1000 a paycheck guys (we are too busy working) but the wealthy Republicans that seek out other wealthy Republicans and sell them on the hogwash of higher prosperity at the expense of us lower tier workers. Seems stupid to me to vote to cut back the very services I find myself seeking out...I think along with myself that most of us "down here" at the bottom end of the pay scale feel that way too!

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    Great points regarding "think tanks." Anyone looking for honesty/reality on tax and budget policy should visit Citizens for Oregon's Future:

    Pancho - I'm glad to see you understand the EXACT point of my column. The "Taxpayers Association of Oregon" in reality is a Republican front operation making them exactly what you describe them as - an opponent of Democrats and those of us who work to promote the progressive Democratic values of real opportunity for everyone in our society. If they existed for the purpose and values they claim to stand for then they would give D's credit when they deserve it, and criticize R's when they deserve it. The facts and the record show otherwise.

  • PanchoPdx (unverified)

    John wrote: "If they existed for the purpose and values they claim to stand for then they would...criticize R's when they deserve it."


    I just used the link in your article to visit the TAO website. After poking around for less than a minute I found the "2003 Legislative Scorecard" for all legislators.

    Should I assume the following Republican legislators were pleased with the grades that the "Republican Message Campaign Front" gave them?

    Rep Backlund F Rep Berger F Rep Dalto F Rep Farr F Rep Gallegos F Rep Jenson F Rep Mabrey F Rep Morgan F Rep Patridge F Rep Shetterly F Rep Williams F Sen Morse F Sen Clarno F Sen Nelson F Sen Charles Starr F Sen Westlund F Sen Winters F

    Sen Hannon C Sen Messerle C Sen John Minnis C

  • Andrew Tunall (unverified)


    I assume you realize that that list includes every Republican legislator who voted for Measure 30's passage in the legislature ... There is a reason Jon pointed out that the TAO is an ulta-right partisan group. Looking at the same scorecard you cited, we had the following amount of:

    A's: 0 B's: 0 C's: 0 D's: 1 F's: 38

    Are you seriously attempting to tell me that the TAO does not represent advocy of the extreme right? While I no doubt recognize that Mary Gallegos (a former Republican incumbent in HD29, a seat now held by Representative Riley) and others who received "F's" on the TAO scorecard disliked their grades, I doubt you can deny that the TAO very much represents the voice of the far right. I firmly agree with Jon's point that the TAO even attacks its own when they as much as compromise on -anything- with the Democrats. The scorecard of our members is evidence of that.

  • Edward (unverified)


    I wasn't trying to blame anything on my hypothetical $1,000 paycheck guy or on any real people for that matter. I was just trying to illustrate how it is that ultraconservative anti-government types can get people to show up and vote for the ultraconservative agenda, when it is clearly against their own self interest. They vote that way b/c the ultraconservative statements somehow resonate with their subjective truth. I mean, I live on a budget, why can't government? Sounds good to me.

    And I too have worked a lot of low-paid jobs, mostly in a couple of other states. I was always astounded when my low-paid co-workers would complain about paying so much in taxes to the Man and spout some form of right-wing claptrap about too much government and taxes. The point is that most people don't have the time or the interest to figure out the actual issues and end up buying into a value-system, without any regard to how it actually effects them and their self-interest.

    I mean, I hope your Dad isn't just that mean that he values his own money over his kids' education. Maybe he is. I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt and guess that he's just bought into a different value system that talks about limiting government interference and promoting good morals. I figure it's a lot easier to change somebody's mind if you know where they are coming from.

  • Coyote (unverified)


    The point that Pancho was making (I think) is that the screed that led off this discussion made it sound like TAO was some mouth piece for the Republican party.

    That could be further from the truth if you really knew the guy behind TAO and also by looking at the score card Pancho mentioned.

    I am wondering (really, I am and probably because I have not looked enough) if there are any left leaning or "democratIC" front groups, that criticise that party like TAO does the repubes?

    I'll take a list, and a little reference in regard tot the number of media mentions they get.

  • Becky (unverified)

    Having been part of a right-wing taxpayer group, I find this discussion fascinating. Maybe I still hold on to some of the naivete that got me into so much trouble, but I believe many of these groups' activists have no idea that an agenda is being pushed and that they are tools of that agenda (to quote Cody). I know the people involved in the TAO and for the most part I think they are true believers and genuinely concerned about trying to solve problems as they see them.

  • ron ledbury (unverified)

    Did anyone happen to notice the radical left initiative proposed by one of the so-called radical right groups?

    Really now. We have some folks here on Blue who support the creation of one party rule but who do not have the slightest clue what it means to be a lefty, a rational and reasonable lefty.

    There is a proposed initiative to achieve transparency in employer costs for state employees. It portends to wrap up into one number the pension and medical costs associated with labor rather than fixate on base salary and leave the rest in some no-man's land of accountability, or rather unaccounability. This, really, is all that I was demanding of the Portland Public School System when I was arguing on behalf of the tier-three teachers. I was arguing on behalf of their labor rights, vindicating their freedom to associate under the US Constitution's First Amendment. I would argue that the radical right group to which I refer could have gone one step further to aid me in my labor-wing cause in the Portland School District by including an initiative to cover local governments in addition to state employees.

    PAT's enemy is the genuine enforcement of labor rights, that of the tier-three teachers. But I guess if new teachers never get hired they can't organize, right?

    Why do you think, prey tell, that the bottom two rungs of the salary schedule in PPS are now history? The rest will follow, in time, to the genuine interests of the tier-three teachers . . .

  • PanchoPdx (unverified)


    Great point about McIntire's state payroll proposal. It doesn't try to change any aspect of state government, just asks them to do a little math and show us the results. Sounds like the sort of Sunshine Law that any reasonable lefty should support.

    I'm waiting to hear how the unions will try to undermine this one:

    "In these times of limited resources, it's just too expensive to compute what we're spending."

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Reality check: the Republican Party helped unseat many of their own legislators who voted for Measure 30's referral. TAO is clearly aligned with the R's right wing, the faction that controls the party - in unholy alliance with religious fundalmentalists.

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