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Regardless of where they live in the state, Oregonians want to improve K-12 education, fill potholes and assist low-income children and seniors — and they are willing to pay more in taxes to make these things happen.

In fact, more than eight in 10 people feel taxes are necessary for the common good, a point that came through loud and clear in the 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Survey. Oregonians also are willing to pay more in taxes to make other things happen, too, including providing work force training and protecting air and water quality.

Then what’s the problem? If Oregonians want these things and say they are willing to pay for them, then why are so many tax measures at the state and local levels such a heavy lift? The same Oregon Values & Beliefs survey reveals part of the answer. When asked to agree or disagree, more than six in 10 Oregonians agreed that government was wasteful and inefficient with our tax dollars and could not be trusted to make good decisions.

This feeling was shared across the state — it wasn’t just the more conservative, Republican and rural residents talking. Democrats split down the middle on the question, with 47 percent agreeing and 48 percent disagreeing. And, among Independents, let’s just say they look a lot more like Republicans (85 percent who agreed) than Democrats.

A majority of every demographic subgroup, including age, income and ethnicity, agreed with the statement. The breadth and depth of government mistrust means that voter turnout may not be the answer either. So much for the belief that all a campaign needs to do is get those younger, lower-income voters to the polls and — voila! — victory is ours.

Moreover, skepticism about the government’s fiscal responsibility is only part of the challenge for tax measure supporters. Negative attitudes about government are more deeply rooted and include criticism about lack of innovation and creativity, and being answerable only to special interests and big money.

Furthermore, Oregonians don’t strongly differentiate what is going on at the national level with what’s going on at the state or local levels. What they perceive about Washington, D.C., affects their attitudes about Salem. And all this against a backdrop of ignorance about how government works and benefits businesses, households and individuals.

Negativity toward government is thus multidimensional and, for many reasons, very difficult to remedy — and it poses a tremendous obstacle to the passing of any tax measure, even for things Oregonians care about deeply.

The future? We’re seeing a pivot away from the public sector and toward other groups as the providers of services, including nonprofits, businesses, faith-based organizations and individuals working together at the local level. It’s alarming that many Oregonians expect these organizations to replace government when, even combining their resources, they cannot come close to doing so.

The public may come to realize the limitations of nongovernmental organizations, but it is not likely to become more supportive of government and tax measures (not counting crisis response) without some major reform and improved communications.

And Oregonians are not very optimistic that such changes will happen very soon.

Adam Davis is founder and principal of DHM Research in Portland, which conducted the 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Survey.

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