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Sunday, February 1, 2004

Bringing it all back home

With Jeff taking a break from The Oregon Blog, and Bix taking an involuntary break from Portland Communique, lately it falls to just us few survivors to keep up the running commentary on matters relating to Portland and Oregon.

I've fallen down miserably in discharging this awesome responsibility. I've gotten fixated on the Demo primaries to the point of shirking my local duties. My resolution for the coming week is to get back to the garden, as it were.

The big news around here is Measure 30, the statewide ballot measure on the state income tax surcharge. The ballots are being turned in now, and the result will be announced Tuesday night. I'm being pounded for voting no on this thing, even though I believe I have stated my case eloquently. Generally, I'm not an anti-tax person, and calling me Lars Larson or Kevin Mannix doesn't make it so. I voted for Measure 28 last year, and for the county income tax in 2003. But there's got to be some limit, and I've reached mine. And I'm not buying any of the malarkey that the politicians and the papers are selling that if the state measure passes, the county will refund the tax.

For three weeks now, my church has literally prayed that Measure 30 will pass. The area's religious leaders (many of whom don't pay taxes) are fervent in their advocacy for the tax increase. Well, damn me to hell, but do I get credit for having voted yes on two out of three?

Rumor has it that all the polls show Measure 30 failing badly, which means there will be painful budget cuts throughout the state. Multnomah County won't be as badly affected because it now has its own income tax. Maybe other counties should follow suit. What? The voters of the other counties won't pass local taxes? Cry me a river.

In a telling show of how completely disconnected from reality our political leaders have become, the very week that a wicked budget ax is about to fall on schools downstate, the state superintendent of public education announces that we ought to expand public school kindergarten from a half day to a full day. I guess she's planning to pay for that by skipping around Salem picking the money that grows on the trees.

Sure, it would be a wonderful idea. But we can't have it and a $1 million a year trolley in Portland, and an aerial tram for OHSU, and PGE Park, and a mostly empty Oregon Convention Center, and North Portland light rail, and all the other toys in the Vera Katz Theme Park. The customers are tapped out.

I know, I know, Measure 30 is a state tax, and the things I'm complaining about are city and county boondoggles. However, the enactment of the Multnomah County tax has completely changed the dynamic. It was expressly sold as an antidote for the state government's irresponsibility, with a promise of a refund if the state cleaned up its act. Thus, the two levels of taxation are now inextricably bound, probably forever. Fine with me -- it all comes out of one checkbook at our house.

One of the more interesting arguments in favor of Measure 30 is that the state tax increase would be less than the federal tax cuts we're all enjoying under George "He Hate Me" Bush. (That may be true for many, although I estimate that our household barely breaks even, even without the Measure 30 tax.) I for one think the federal tax cuts were and are obscene, and I'm hoping that we'll get some new national leadership soon who will let some of the more outlandish welfare-for-the-rich tax provisions die for good when they expire on schedule in the coming years. But that will never happen if the states are sucking up that money. Support for reforming the federal tax mess will be considerably less if the states have become dependent on eating the money that Bush has given away.

As I said, sorry, folks, but I'll be the bad blogger on this one.

Comments (12)

Shortly after this post went up, John Dunshee, a.k.a. Just Some Poor Schmuck, posted this comment to a related post. I'm taking the liberty of reposting it here:

Welcome to the dark side, Jack.

Actually I can understand your vote given the record of Oregon politicians of both parties on spending the taxpayers money.

The problem with voting for this measure is that if you do, you have to vote for the next one and the next one and the next one....

Supporters of Measure 30 tell us that the sky will fall if it doesn't pass. Maybe it will. But it has got to happen sooner or later, this unrestrained spending cannot continue. There is not only the expensive toys that Vera has collected, but mismanagement throughout the government.

My sister works at OSU and told me that last year when they were having to lay people off, the administration hired some "counselor" for over $100K to help those laid off deal with the trauma. The newly unemployed really felt great visiting this lady who made two or three times what they did for counseling.

Both people and the government are going to have to decide what is important and fund those things. The rest are probably nice to have, but so is a Lexus. I don't have one of those because I can't afford it and if we can't afford these extras, we will have to do without.

Great. Now I'm going to have unsettling dreams about visiting the Vera Katz Theme Park. Not quite how I wanted to spend my involuntary break.

I'd love to have a separate discussion about all-day Kindergarten sometime, Jack. While money may be tight, Castillo listed some very doable approaches for offering all-day Kindergarten to more children. Earlier this year, I was talking to my daughter's 2nd grade teacher, and she was telling me what an amazing difference there is between her students who had all-day Kindergarten and those who didn't. That was true even among her ELL (English Language Learners) students. I was thrilled to see Castillo pushing all-day Kindergarten.

I'm not against all-day kindergarten. But if we can afford that program expansion, how come we can't keep the school year intact without new taxes? I guess my point is that the super should have waited until Feb. 4 to make her pitch for that one.

While non-profits (including churches) do not pay property taxes, religious leaders (ministers, etc) do pay taxes.

Not on their housing, and not if they don't get paid money by their orders or outsiders.

Nice long post. I'd like to hear your take on what will happen to public schools and the Oregon Health Plan when 30 fails. No mention?

I'm deeply conflicted on Measure 30 (I'm always one of those last-minute voters), but I, for one, don't think Castillo's comments were inappropriate or poorly timed.

Well, perhaps they are if the goal is to be a politician first and foremost, with an eye towards how things will play in Peoria. I'd much rather she tell the truth about what's needed to effect change, even if it makes her seem out of touch (which she explicitly acknowledges in the article, btw.)

The initiatives she's talking about sound worthwhile at a first glance, as do her statements that we can make them happen by reapportioning funding instead of going back to a well for more. And she does acknowledge that Measure 30's defeat will severely impact any kind of implementation.

I'm glad that she didn't wait until 2/4 to speak up, frankly.

I'm not at all conflicted about Measure 30. I voted no with great enthusiasm and will dance happily in my living room when (not if, I sincerely hope) it goes down to crushing defeat. I didn't get a raise last year. On the other hand, I didn't get laid off the way some of my cow-orkers did because business was bad.

Why the %#%! (pardon my French) should the government expect a raise every year without fail when the people _paying_ for that government can't count on them? And having to pay for the Vera Katz Amusement Park (especially when bits and pieces have been resoundingly rejected by the taxpayers again and again, only to be built anyhow) doesn't help.

A pox on the city, the county AND the state.

For Alan, I'll predict that schools outside of Multnomah County will lay off some teachers, eliminate some worthy programs, and shorten the school year. The Oregon Health Plan will take more cuts, but hopefully they'll be handled better than last year, when people actually died.

Clackamas and Washington Counties will start thinking about their own local income taxes. After a few weeks of pouting, there will be a special session of the Legislature.

There will be some quiet cutting of fat here and there, but the politicians will be careful not to admit to it.

The sky will not fall, and I will still pay my 14 percent one-year state and local income tax increase and my 10 percent one-year property tax increase.

With Jeff taking a break from The Oregon Blog, and Bix taking an involuntary break from Portland Communique, lately it falls to just us few survivors to keep up the running commentary on matters relating to Portland and Oregon.

We're dependin' on you, man!

Actually, I think there is going to be catastrophe when (if?) this thing fails, and I guess we'll sort it out then. But as someone who's been taking a pounding on his own (national) blog for switching from the sunk Kucinich boat to the sinking Dean one, I will defend your right to the bitter end to offer the dissenting view. That's what makes blogs so cool--you get something original for your money. (Which by the way, ain't much.)

The issue is far larger than Measure 30, and here I think you probably agree with those who now excoriate you--taxes in Oregon are a mess, and the first thing we need to do is sit down and have a discussion about revenues and expenditures and what seems reasonable.

You're right, Jeff. The public finance situation in Oregon is as sick right now as I've ever seen it. It's just a disaster. Having Multnomah County secede from the state financially has made things even sicker.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Bringing it all back home:

Time once more for the post with the faux-threatening headline. It's election day, and while seven states bother themselves over the Democratic presidential candidates, we here in Oregon must decide the fate of Measure 30, the tax measure passed by... [Read More]

Note: This post has been updated. Any and all updates appear at the end of the original post. Time once more for the post with the faux-threatening headline. It's election day, and while seven states bother themselves over the Democratic presidential c... [Read More]


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