The Oregonian's editorial page today exhorts Multnomah County voters to vote for Measure 30, the state income tax surcharge. Perhaps the strongest argument that the editorial musters for a yes vote in these parts is its spin on the new county income tax: "County voters can't forget the original purpose of their local tax: to be a temporary lifeboat until state funding came through. The goal was never to secede financially from the rest of the state. The goal was to meet local needs until the state pulled itself together."
A few paragraphs later, however, The O makes this naked assertion: "With expected refunds if Measure 30 passes, about two-thirds of county taxpayers would pay lower taxes if the state plan passes."
I have to challenge that last statement. First of all, there's no guarantee whatsoever what (if anything) the county will refund if the state surcharge passes. But more importantly, even if the county pays refunds at the highest level estimated so far – by County Chair Linn – county residents as a group will pay more tax.
Linn says she'll refund "up to" 22 percent of the county tax; the tax is 1.25 percent of income. That amounts to a maximum refund of 0.275 percent of income. For most taxpayers, the proposed state surcharge is somewhere between 0.3 percent and 0.8 percent of income, depending on how high one's income is. Thus, it's a mathematical fact that the Measure 30 tax will cost Multnomah taxpayers as a group much more than they're going to get back, even if Linn's wildest dreams come true.
Assume that the total taxable income of all taxpayers in Multnomah County is $1 billion. I have no idea what it is – I'm just making that number up, but the actual amount doesn't matter for these purposes. Here's where the tax chips of Measure 30 would fall:
Total taxable income in county = $1,000,000,000
County tax at 1.25% = $12,500,000
Refund of 22% of county tax (maximum) if Measure 30 passes = $2,750,000
State income tax increase at 0.5% of income = $5,000,000
If The Oregonian is going to make a wild claim, such as that two thirds of county voters will save taxes under Measure 30, it ought to at least have the guts to back its assertions up with the numbers. Maybe I'm missing something, but I'd be shocked if the two thirds figure is anywhere near accurate.
UPDATE, 1/28, 7:53 p.m.: The same figure, which apparently comes from some Multnomah County official or another, is repeated in today's Willamette Week. Guess the local press is going to accept this rash prediction uncritically. Why not? It supports their editorial position.
It didn't even dawn on the county until recently that state and federal retirees won't be paying the county's new tax. There's a $1 million blunder. And The O and WW believe the bureaucrats when they say we'll actually pay less if we vote to pay more? That's Portland journalism for you.