Measure 66 from the Oregonian 1-09-10

 

January 09, 2010, 11:00AM
To listen to its supporters, this is the Snow White of tax increases --
the fairest of them all. Well, that's a fairy tale, too

Measure 66, its supporters would have you believe, is all about fairness. It's about making sure all those wealthy Oregonians, the rich, richer and richest, pay their fair share.

Never mind that the mostly small-business owners, professionals and other Oregonians who would be hit with the additional taxes, retroactive to last year, already pay some of the nation's highest taxes on their income. Will it be truly fair only when Oregon small-business owners, professionals and other employers pay the highest personal income taxes in all the land?

Never mind that Measure 66 is an invitation for 97.5 percent of Oregonians to jack up the income taxes of the other 2.5 percent. Never mind that the measure includes a tax cut for 270,000 Oregonians whose first $2,400 in unemployment benefits last year would be exempt from taxation. What's fair is fair, right? Don't you dare suggest this has anything to do with exploiting class differences, trolling for votes or isolating a small subset of taxpayers.

Never mind that these relatively few taxpayers singled out for higher taxes in Measure 66 paid 32.4 percent of all state income taxes in 2007, in effect funding one in three teachers, one in three state police officers and one in three of all state workers. Shouldn't they do even more? What if they paid 35 percent, even 40 percent, of all state taxes. Wouldn't that be even more fair?

Never mind that Measure 66 is a poll-driven, poll-tested plan carefully designed by Democrats in the Legislature and their key support groups to have the greatest possible chance of winning voter approval. They're still flogging Measure 66 as a matter of fairness, a tax-equity issue just as pure as the driven snow.

Don't believe it. Measure 66 is not about fairness. It is about raising $472 million in taxes during one of the worst recessions in Oregon history to cover a gaping hole in the state budget and doing it in a way that somehow, some way, passes muster with at least 50 percent of voters, plus one.

We oppose both Measure 66 and its companion on the Jan. 26 ballot, Measure 67. But Measure 67, which would increase Oregon's comparatively low business taxes, at least is an honest attempt to bring some balance and stability, to Oregon's tax system even as it lashes suffering, profitless businesses with higher taxes.

Measure 66 is none of those things. It takes one of the highest income tax rates in the nation and drives it still higher. It takes one of the most volatile sources of public finance and makes it ever shakier and vulnerable to collapse in hard times like these. It sends the absolutely wrong message to small-business owners, professionals and CEOs -- the very people we need to come to Oregon, stay in Oregon, and create more jobs and state revenue in Oregon.

Tim Boyle, the chief executive officer of Columbia Sportswear, recently explained to Willamette Week why he opposes Measures 66 and 67. His analogy is right on target: "I compare the Oregon tax system to a stereo system built around an eight-track player," Boyle said. "There is widespread agreement that it's not a good system, that there are better systems, and that it is outdated and needs improvement. But instead of working to find and implement those improvements, someone rushes in and decides that the answer is to just turn up the volume ... It is important to vote on whether that is a good or bad thing, but in the end some people will simply vote with their feet and leave the room."

Oregon's old stereo is blaring full blast now, with ballots arriving in mailboxes on Friday and Election Day less than three weeks away. With all the bellowing of the campaigns, it's tempting to cover your ears, hold your nose and vote "yes" to stick somebody else with higher taxes.

If you do, Oregon's eight-track will play on. Its tax system will be more top-heavy and unstable than ever. The philosophy behind Measure 66 is that a majority of voters can force 2.5 percent of taxpayers to shoulder the extra load. You can call that whatever you want, except fair.

 

 
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