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Monday, March 7, 2005

New developments

A couple of followup notes regarding taxes:

Richard Hatch, the naked Survivor winner who apparently didn't report his TV winnings on his tax return, has withdrawn his agreement to plead guilty to a tax crime. Now his case will go to Tribal Council -- er, I mean, a federal grand jury.

Meanwhile, just north of us, we reported here recently that Washington's congressional representatives want to restrict Oregon's power to tax 'Couverites who work in Portland. Dumb, and politically impossible. Now a couple of state representatives from up that way want to cut back the sales tax exemption that Oregon residents get when they go to Clark County or Seattle to shop. As I said previously, suit yourself, folks. Let the Oregonians stay home to buy their Wheaties.

Comments (24)

Who goes to Washington shop? Honestly, I've never heard of this.

I live in north pdx and i have run up to the couv a couple of times...very rarely however.

It's hard to believe anyone would come to WA just to shop. What do we have that you don't have in Portland, besides the sales tax? All the big stores must be on both sides of the river. Maybe some boutique stuff here and there, but is this really a big deal? Tilting at windmills on the part of my esteemed representatives.

Let me ask a question, if an Washingtonian purchases some goods here in Oregon, more to the point lets say they were purchased at JB, is the Washington resident obligated to show their WDL and pay the sales tax?

No, WA residents are supposed to pay "use tax" (equal to sales tax) on the goods when they bring them back to Washington. They're supposed to fill out a tax return every year and send in the use tax to Olympia. Except for cars, of course, they never do it.

Thanks jack and I’m sorry to belabor the point. So the “use tax” is paid on the spot of purchase or when someone files their taxes? And does that cover groceries like people stopping at the Safeway @JB.

I see that those wacky Washington legislators would still exempt purchases of over $50 from sales tax. So my wife can still shop 'till she drops at IKEA (while I sit in the cafeteria reading a book and eating Swedish meatballs) and we'll still save that 8%.

Which reminds me, on a trip many years ago to Washington State we pulled into a Taco Bell and bought about $1.50 worth of junk Mexican food. My wife tried to argue that they should have not charged us the 11 cents of sales tax, but the stone-faced girl at the drive-up window would not relent. Later we found out that us Oregonians still have to pay sales taxes on Washington restaurant meals.

Now THERE's an injustice that needs a legislative fix!

I have a funny story about this issue, I live on Hayden Island and about a month ago I was at that Safeway on JB. And without noticing it I was in the checkout line behind our favorite radio host now living up in Washington, the reason I bring this up is because I did not remember until now that he did not pay the “use tax”. Which by the way is almost always ignored, but he would be the first to tell everyone that a law is the law. I would assume the checker would have to figure out the tax if asked and she was not asked. The duplicity he has got is truly unbelievable, I heard that he was backing for this payroll to be dropped, talk about having your cake and your frosting to. How about this legislation session take place in his studio, he seems want to make policy from there. How about this legislation session take place in his studio, he seems he wants to make policy from there.

i don't know of any state that charges a sales tax (or "use tax") on groceries or anything else that you need to stay alive. i don't think prescriptions have sales/use tax, either. lots o' thing don't have sales/use tax.

Yeah, but they always seem to impose the sales/use tax on things like television sets, school supplies, and underwear. Those aren't "essentials."

"I was in the checkout line behind our favorite radio host now living up in Washington, the reason I bring this up is because I did not remember until now that he did not pay the “use tax”."

As Mr. Bogdanski said, this "use tax" is not collected at the point of sale in Oregon (as if!) but, when owed, is filed by the consumer and sent to Olympia. [insert eyeroll] It would not be owed on food. Find another reason to rant or ramble on about Lars. [you can have another eyeroll; don't mind if you do.]

Some states, Jack, have a mini-moratorium on sales taxes right before school opens in September. What a grand idea.

Not Washington -- which does tax a lot of services as well as goods with its sales tax (and of course has reams of other "hidden" and sin taxes).

I would be so interested to see a close comparative analysis of the progressivity of Washington v. Oregon taxes, and their effects across different economic strata.

Oregon has an income tax, but it's not very progressive. It seems you get into the highest rate bracket while you're still below the poverty line.

One thing's for sure: Oregon's tax of 9 percent on all income (10.25 percent in Multnomah County) is way heavier than Washington's 7 or 8 percent on spending only.

Who goes to Washington to shop?

My wife: Ikea. A shoe store near Pike Place Market in Seattle.

Me: Bob's Sporting Goods in Longview. The Mariners Team Store at Safeco Field.

"Oregon has an income tax, but it's not very progressive. It seems you get into the highest rate bracket while you're still below the poverty line.

"One thing's for sure: Oregon's tax of 9 percent on all income (10.25 percent in Multnomah County) is way heavier than Washington's 7 or 8 percent on spending only."

Yes, I am aware that Oregon's top rate strikes at about $6,250 (going from memory). And the injury on insult of the Multnomah County tax is one I argued about even here, to little effect, though I said I'd pay it once.

However, what I am wondering about is why, in all the national comparisons of state tax rates, Washington comes out way (way!) higher than Oregon does. And Wm. Gates, Sr. claims, in his work for and testimony to the Washington State legislature, that Oregon's system of taxation, as lopsided and problematic as it is, is much more progressive than is Washington's.

That is what I would like to see drawn out, compared and explained.


To some extent, state tax systems are another way of saying "pick your poison." People on the borders of states with wildly differing tax systems can game the system, but everyone else gets screwed one way or another.

As for progressivity, it is standard Paul Samuelson Economics (the writer of the ubiquitous Econ textbook everyone had in college during my day) that the sales tax (or to use more modern lingo, a "consumption" tax) is regressive, because people with lower incomes actually pay a higher percentage of their income as taxes than do people with higher incomes. And that's even after exempting food, as many states do.

In contrast, the federal income tax is "progressive," because people with higher incomes pay a higher percentage of that income (at least theoretically) than do people with lower incomes.

Oregon's income tax is almost entirely flat, because the 9% rate applies to almost all income except the first few thousand dollars. Thus it is neither "progressive" nor "regressive."

It's interesting that with the move to the right in this country starting about 1980, the terms "progressive" and "regressive" seem quaintly liberal in an old-fashioned New-Deal sort of way.

By the way, I noticed on my 1040 that people can get an itemized deduction for sales tax payments again. I thought this itemized deduction was banished by the 1986 tax reform. When did it make its way back in?

I think the sales tax deduction came back this year. But I'd have to do a little news-article digging to refresh my memory.

Gordo, I understand the economic and "prevailing wisdom" basics. What I would love to see is a close comparison of Oregon and Washington taxes, across different income strata, as well as in whole. Otherwise it seems there is much idle speculation or resentments. I have lived both places (almost all of my life, much longer in Oregon) and I still can't figure it out.

(Wasn't it you who argued so with me about the Multnomah Co. tax that was the straw that broke it for me, personally, last? :=) Let's not overly revisit that.)

Brian Baird (D-Wa) got the sales tax deduction added to the law this year, for a period of three years. It took him many.

Sally, I don't remember arguing with you or anyone else on this site (or anywhere else for that matter) about the Multnomah County Tax. Must have been somebody else.

On the "progressive" vs. "regressive" point: I think it's more of a continuum, and where one crosses the line into "regressive" is in the eye of the beholder. For example, I think an argument can be made that Oregon's income tax, like any other flat income tax, is "regressive."

Sales taxes were made deductible once again, beginning in 2004, in one of last year's federal tax acts. However, if one is in a state that has both a sales tax and an income tax (and there are many), one must choose to deduct one or the other.

For the future, I'd say watch for all state and local taxes to become nondeductible for federal tax purposes. That's already true of us "wealthy" people who must pay the federal alternative minimum tax (AMT), and I suspect it may become the norm for everyone as the tax system changes.

With all due respect, you don't ask much, do you?

"What I would love to see is a close comparison of Oregon and Washington taxes, across different income strata, as well as in whole."


"With all due respect, you don't ask much, do you?"

Heck, no. I'm just a little guy. I have spent some time looking up stats, though, on such websites. Oregon usually comes in about 28th on the tax scale, and Washington about 8th. "Prevailing wisdom" has it that sales taxes are more regressive than income. I figured for myself at a low income, Washington would be less taxed, if only because rents, food and utilities (mostly) are not subject to sales taxes.

I never ever bitched about taxes in Oregon until the last few years in Multnomah County.

Bill Gates, Sr., who works this seriously as an avocation, and for the Washington legislature, says Washington's tax system is "enormously regressive." I would like to know more specifically what he is talking about, and why he looks to Oregon as a better, though troubled, model, because I expect he does know what he is talking about even if I do not.

Jack, it was Brian Baird I believe who spent years getting the sales tax deduction temporarily enacted into federal law. In the future, as we are already seeing, more and more taxes will devolve to the state and local levels. Medicaid is the great next (now, actually) devolving front.

"Eye of the beholder" is a different way to say "where you sit is where you stand," which I have said before. However, some "objectivity" to the regressive/progressive discussion can be had if you regard it as a percentage of income paid to taxes. Mr. Gates, Sr.'s contention about Wasshington's regressivity comes because he says poor people here pay a greater, even much greater, percentage of their income in taxes than do the wealthy. I would think the same for Portland. (I might be wrong.)

Gordo, sorry if I mixed you up with another Portland Dem. :-) The Multnomah Co. tax is more regressive even than most Oregon income taxes. (And I'm back to dying to know what Mr. Gates, Sr. knows that I do not.)

Sally perhaps what you're looking for is here...
Table 16. Rates of Major Taxes, All States

If you consider OR's income tax to be essentially flat, since it hits the max rate at $6500, then the difference between the states (since WA is flat at 0%) is in the consumables (I'll leave the Mult Co tax out for now). WA is higher there all around: sales tax, gas tax, cigarettes,...

Given that you can only buy so much stuff, it seems that any kind of consumables tax should be regressive. If WA has higher tax on consumables, then it should be more regressive, no?

You could also rely on this:

Washington State Tax Structure Study Committee, which has recommended the state adopt an income tax and lower or remove the sales tax and the state portion of the property tax, found that households making less than $20,000 pay an average of 15.7 percent of their incomes in taxes. The top 1 percent pay just 3.3 percent.

I have been unable to find similar numbers, but with a flat income tax and no sales tax, it's hard to believe Oregon could be more regressive than this.

Alright, that's enough out of me. I gotta be productive somewhere else for now.

Wow, thanks, Jud. I bet that study committee was exactly what Gates, Sr. served on, with those percentages behind the rhetoric he was using with such fervor. I will have a look at the PDF.

You de man .... for the day. :=)


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