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County hedges bets on income tax

Language in the voters' pamphlet is perplexing, but there's a method to madness

So does the county want the tax, or not?

When Multnomah County voters get their voters' pamphlets at the end of next week for the May 20 election, they might be forgiven for thinking the county is just itching to torpedo a county income tax that voters haven't even approved yet.

Toward the end of the voters' pamphlet explanatory statement on the proposed county income tax comes this paragraph:

'If the state reduces base funding É for county schools, or funding for public safety or human services, the county board of commissioners will consider immediate termination of this county income tax.'

And the next paragraph:

'If the state restores funding for county public schools, public safety, or human services É the board will consider immediate termination or reduction (sic) this tax.'

So when, exactly, would the county not consider terminating the tax a tax that the Board of County Commissioners itself referred to voters?

County officials, who wrote the explanatory statement with help from county lawyers, said the measure is not as contradictory as the language might make it seem.

The first paragraph, said Becca Uherbelau, a spokeswoman for Multnomah County Chairwoman Diane Linn, is county leaders' attempt to deal with assertions from rural Oregon legislators that any new local Multnomah County income tax revenue should be put into the state's school fund and redistributed to all schools in the state.

The language also is intended to deal with the Legislature's providing less money to Multnomah County public safety and human service agencies because of new local revenue. If the Legislature takes either action, the language allows for the county board to rescind the tax, Uherbelau said.

The second paragraph, meanwhile, is meant to deal with the 'very remote chance' that this year's Legislature would fund schools and other services to a level that county officials deemed adequate, Uherbelau said.

Most voters, of course, are unlikely to understand any of that from the paragraphs in the voters' pamphlet.

'I'm not sure what it means,' said John Kauffman, the county's director of elections, when asked about the paragraphs. His office's job is to publish pamphlet explanations and statements, not edit them for clarity, he said.

Kauffman said his office will mail the voters' pamphlets next Friday. Ballots will be mailed to voters on May 2.

Liz Kaufman, who's directing the campaign in support of the income tax, agrees that the voter pamphlet wording might be confusing, but said supporters' campaign brochures will be more clear.

'That's why we do campaign materials: to make it even more easily digestible to people,' she said.

Contact Todd Murphy at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..