INFORMATION, NOT SCARE TACTICS
Today is election day. By Wednesday we'll know the outcome of the income tax surcharge measure. If the measure passes, Oregonians will have to pay a higher income tax for 2002, '03 and '04, but cuts to government services won't be as severe as they will be if the measure fails. If the measure goes down, Oregonians won't be saddled with an increase in income taxes for three years, but they will see a reduction in services ranging from education to health care to public safety.
MEASURE 28 presented Oregonians with that choice. Surprisingly, a tax measure given up for dead when it was first produced gathered enough support to wind up about even in the polls leading up to tonight's vote-counting. Proponents cautioned that Oregon couldn't afford the cuts, either socially or economically. Opponents countered that Oregonians don't need an additional tax burden and that the cutbacks being announced amounted to fear-mongering.
Among the accusations that have surfaced in letters to the editor and from some columnists is that the media contributed "scare-tactic'' articles in order to slant the election in
favor of the measure.
CONSIDERING THE AMOUNT of press the pending cuts received, it's not hard to understand why hard-line opponents of Measure 28 would accuse the media of scare tactics. It's easy to misconstrue the purpose of informing readers about the consequences should the measure fail with advocating for the measure.
A couple of weeks ago an Observer editorial explained the reason behind running the series of stories about the cuts in services the state is facing without additional revenue: "The purpose of the stories, which touched on all aspects of government affected by the state's revenue shortfall, wasn't to put a smoking gun to the heads of voters. Rather, the point was to show what services we will have to learn to do without if the measure fails. Often when money measures are presented on ballots and fail, voters later voice complaints that they weren't aware of what was really at stake.''
THE OBSERVER AND the media in general would be remiss to have ignored reporting what was at stake. If school districts are facing more teacher layoffs or program reductions, the public needs to be aware. If programs for the mentally ill and various senior and health care services are in jeopardy of being cut, the public needs to know. Reporting such consequences isn't about slanting the news or creating a frenzy of scare tactics, it's about informing people about what the state is facing.
Opponents of the measure would have preferred that the reality of looming budget cuts not be known. Their accusations of scare tactics notwithstanding, the media has a job to do.
Regardless of how the measure turns out, Oregonians needed to be aware of the consequences of what they were voting on.