The ballots have arrived at our house for Measure 30, the Oregon statewide income tax increase, with a voting deadline of Feb. 3. This is the income tax surcharge that the Legislature put in place last summer, only to have it dragged before the voters by initiative petition.
Great timing. We're broke right now.
I sized this one up pretty well back in August, and not much has changed since then. The key voters are in Multnomah County, where a big win is necessary for the tax boost to pass. And the logic of your average Multnomah County voter right now is likely to be this:
O.k., I've already had my state and local income taxes increased from 9 percent of income to 10.25 percent of income because of the new county income tax. That's a whopping 13.89 percent increase for people in the 9 percent state bracket (1.25 is 13.89 percent of 9), and even higher for folks in lower state brackets. Isn't a 13.89 percent revenue increase enough to keep the schools open? Why would I vote for a state measure that bumps the increase up to 19.45 percent? I'm all for schools, but a 13.89 percent single-year increase is too much, much less 19.45 percent.
Since I first wrote that, the county has made a nonbinding commitment to reduce the county tax by "as much as" 22 percent if the state measure passes. But that's only if the county gets good collections from its new tax -- a prospect that's highly uinlikely, since there's no mandatory county tax withholding from wages, and many average workers won't be able or willing to pay it. Also, the forecast comes from County Commission Chair Diane Linn, who's become quite the master at retracting public statements. First she promised the new library director an astronomical salary, then had to take part of it back. Last week she announced that county workers would be paid for the snow days, only to reverse course a day later.
If Linn's most optimistic nonpromise comes true, the county would retroactively reduce the new county tax from 1.25 to 0.98 percent, and issue a refund. Meanwhile, the state income tax would increase by 0.50 percent of income, leaving Multnomah voters with an aggregate tax increase of 1.48 percent of income. So up here we're basically voting on a tax increase of 0.23 percent of our income -- another $115 if your income is $50,000 -- with all of the new money being sent outside the county.
I can't see it passing.
The other news is that the proponents of the measure tell us there will be no immediate special session of the Legislature if it fails. There will just be pre-ordained, painful budget cuts (except in Multnomah County). A special session on tax reform is still on the schedule for the summer, but that group's apparently going to be looking into the future, rather than trying to fix the present.