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Monday, July 6, 2009

Another Oregon tax increase, doomed to failure?

The Oregon income tax increase on corporations and wealthy taxpayers is generating a lot of heat in the news media, but I wouldn't worry too much about it. If it is forced onto a statewide referendum -- and the usual suspects among the tighty righties are highly likely to cause that to happen -- the election is apparently going to be conducted with a ballot deadline date of January 26.

We've seen this movie before, in 2003 and 2004. In late January, everybody's broke from holiday shopping. The credit card bills are screaming. If you ask the public for more tax money at that time of year, the answer is going to be no. Sure, this time is different, because the taxes directly affect only businesses and high-income folks, but still -- it's hard to see a tax increase winning an election at that time of year.

And so get ready for some serious madness in Salem come next winter. The "regularly scheduled special session" of the Legislature is likely to be a real humdinger.

Meanwhile, as I understand it, at least some of the tax increases will be retroactive to the 2009 tax year, as opposed to taking effect in 2010. If I'm right about that, it means that the Oregon tax forms that we'll be struggling with next tax season will have to have two sets of tax tables in them -- one for if the tax increases survive the referendum and one for if they fail. What fun.

Comments (24)

So if we want the taxes, we'll be voting "no", yes?

My understanding is that they did not pass the change to the wording of the referendum. And so if you want the taxes, you vote the same way you did if you wanted the taxes the last two times.

Are the "tighty righties" the only ones opposed to higher taxes? Don't those on the left earn any money or own their own businesses?

Those on the left understand that to have a civilized society, government needs money. On a broader plane, they acknowledge that other people exist.

Maybe I'm optimistic, but I think the voters will decide that it's OK to hit the pocketbooks of corporate and individual fat-cats, as long as they don't take a hit. The two failed measures in 2003 and 2004 affected everyone, as did the gas tax that got trounced around then.

The opponents and Mark Nelson have a more difficult sell this time. For the sake of our schools and those in need, I hope they fail.

By the way, the Oregonian today had an op-ed by a fat-cat bemoaning the negative impact of the increase on high income types, and demanding imposition of a sales tax as part of a "balanced" scheme. I guess not enough of our budget is being paid for by the poor - we need a regressive sales tax to get them up to their "fair share."

And don't rich people thinking of moving to Oregon consider the 9-10% in foregone sales tax when they purchase their next Mercedes or Hobey-Cat? Are they that stupid?

We can all agree that government needs money to operate and provide services, and that we can all acknowledge that other people exist.

We just can't agree on how much is adequate, or what everyone's fair share might be.

It's interesting that tax haters only exist on the right in many people's eyes. Yet when anti-tax measures actually pass, it passes with votes from left, right, and center. Could there really be that many "tighty-righties"? Or are too many people easily influenced?

Don't forget that those top 5% pay the major portion of the taxes directly, and the rest pay them indirectly.

Defending the "rich"? No, not at all.

I consider myself far more to the left than to the right. I'm usually sympathetic to requests for more money to fund the schools, typically vote for all local option tax increases. But, I get tired of requests at the state level for more income taxes because the Legislature doesn't have the guts to take on a comprehensive reform of the tax structure. If they insist on putting out tax measures intent on drawing in the "tighty righties", why not draw them in to a comprehensive tax reform rather than squandering all the money needed to support a doomed effort to raise income taxes.

And let's not forget that an increase in State Income tax for those of us in the brackets affected by this latest tax increase will end up paying more in State Income tax and Federal Income tax because most of us get hit by the AMT too. And State Income taxes are one of the items that trigger the AMT. So the more the state tax is raised, the more of my income is exposed to the AMT. It is a double, not a single, hit.

I haven't made up my mind on this particular tax issue, but if I end up paying more in State Income tax, my charitable contributions will end up going down because that's the only place I have left to get the money from.

Those on the left understand that to have a civilized society, government needs money. On a broader plane, they acknowledge that other people exist.

Those of us in the middle do too. What we don't like is how the yokels in gov't manage those funds.

Jack, many of us recognize that "other people exist", but why does the budget from last year for state government have to increase 9% as passed last week?

Citizens, even including the public employees haven't even seen a 9% increase in wages or profits from their food carts.

"understand that to have a civilized society, government needs money."

I understand that. WHat I don't understand is how we throw tons of money at monument building, streetcars, condo subsidies, neon roses, water bureau blogs, soccer stadiums and then surprisingly have no money for sewer/infrastruture repair, potholes, Sellwood bridge or schools.

Face it, the averaage Oregon voter is just no that sharp to see thru the std Oregon politician song-and-dance.

SO now after Teddy staffed up another 10% after the prev biennium and refuses to cut heads, their only solution is to raise taxes on "rich" people which keeps even more empolyers from coming here.

Does the price of a civilized society include guaranteed 8% per year pension increases for public employees in this state. Talk about unsustainable. I am a demo and for the past 20 years I have watched a succession of democratic Governers lord over every increasing taxes on the middle class while diminishing the Corporate tax load and ever increasing benefits to the poor, marginalized and addicted. Both parties are responsible. The extreme right protects the shiftless, drunk non working Rich and the extreme Left the shiftless. drunk, drug addicated poor, while those of us who drag our asses out of bed every day to feed our families and maybe, with luck, better ourselves, are told we are selfish and deserve to be taxed more.
Enough, both parties are on either the Corporate or Social Service Mafia(public employee union) dole. We need a rational fair moderate breed of politicians lke Tom McCall, Norma Paulus, Robert Straub and Vic Atyeh to bring this state back into balence.

Federal income taxes on the high-income people and corporations that will be affected by the Oregon tax increase have never been lower. The top federal tax rate on capital gain, including dividends, is now at 15%. The top federal rate on ordinary income is 35%. U.S. corporate taxes are the laughingstock of the world -- multinational firms simply don't pay much of them. If Oregon wants to squeeze a little more out of the high-end investor and corporate welfare recipients, so be it. Uncle Sam, too.

As for the public employee pensions, yes, they are excessive, but much of them are constitutionally guaranteed and can't be cut. I'm all for laying off the layers and layers of unnecessary bureaucrats we have, and good luck to you trying to get that to happen.

Its the righties in this state keeping tax increases from happening? So where are all these dominating righties during the general elections?

Personally, I dont think a tax increase will pass during a recession.

As long as we give them the money, layoffs will NEVER happen.

As long as we give them the money, they will fund toy trains first.

As long as we give them the money, they will give tax breaks to condo bunkers.

Schools are always last because the legislators k now we have a hard time saying no to schools. We should demand that schools and police be funded first before any other government money can be spent.

Since they play the game of funding all the junk first, our only option is to reject the money and let them sort out the mess they created by putting essential services last. Its either that or pay the blackmailer, knowing that he will be back soon.


Jack: Face it - a tax increase in a state with 12+% unemployment will not have legs. Especially if that unemployment rate continues to rise - as I suspect it will.

This year I wont get a bonus or raise and have taken $2,000 hit to my wages plus had vacation taken away. Also, the wife lost her job due to layoffs so the old family income has really taken a hit this year. What do we do? Tighten the belt and cut back on everything. Pretty common story throughout the state in the last year.

How come the legislature and gov. think the states budget needs to grow 9%? I'm not personally opposed to tax increases if the state can prove the need. Unfortunatly, I haven't seen them make that case a single time. They only ever cut essential programs while growing the fluff and cry for more money.

I must correct a bunch of misstatements by "b". NO public employee receives 8% per year pension increases! This is flat out wrong. "b" confuses the guaranteed 8% increase in the employee account balance annually for ONLY Tier 1 members. The last Tier 1 member was hired in 1995. No subsequent hire has such a guarantee. Second, the reason the guarantee exists is because of the very governors he so admires. A little check of history would reveal that the 5% guarantee (since raised to 8% in 1989), was initiated by Governors Straub and Atiyeh in the late 1970's in early 1980's. It was done to keep wage increases down. There was no free lunch for public employees.

Today, less than 40% of working public employees are subject to the guarantee. The remaining 60% - Tier 2 and Tier 3 - employees have no such guarantee and receive market rate returns on their money.

Further, NO public employee still in the system (not retired) has any new money going into accounts paying the guarantee. That practice stopped in 2003. So the only growth taking place in Tier 1 (40%) employees comes from the earnings guaranteed to be no less than 8%. No Tier 1 employee has received earnings greater than 8% since 2003. True enough that they received these earnings in the lean last two years, but in the fat years of 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006, when the earnings were off the charts, Tier 1 members only got 8%, while Tier 2 and Tier 3 members received earnings in the mid to high teens.

Retirees from PERS are guaranteed a COLA increase NOT TO EXCEED 2% annually, but the actual COLA is determined by the CPI-U for the Portland/Salem Metro area.

So, if you want to bash PERS, please do it with correct numbers, not the blanket and incorrect broad brush that you used. It is bad enough that we have to fend off the legitimate, but misunderstood, criticisms of the system. It isn't fair that we have to answer for bald-face factual inaccuracies in the same posts.

Mr. Fearless,

It's funny that not many participating in the PERS program ever bitch about the benefits.

By the way, in the 2003 - 2006 years you cited, many PERS eligible folks also had options for other retirement investments (IAP, for example) and could also reap the gains in the mid to high teens. A win-win situation funded by the taxpayers.

By the way, when you say "NO public employees" get an 8% annual return and then go on to point out that there are Tier I members who get an 8% annual return . . . I guess SOME public employees do benefit, don't they?

Mike (the other one):

We generally don't bitch about the benefits. They were promised us in lieu of higher salaries. We spent all our working lives bitching about low salaries, but knew that when we retired we would be better off.

Also, you misquote me egregiously when you attribute to me a statement that says "NO public employees get an 8% annual return". I said no such thing. What I said is that NO public employee still working has any NEW money going into accounts earning a guarantee. That is a far cry from what you allege I said.

For heavens' sake, criticize me for things I say (if they merit criticism) but don't put words in my mouth. I suggest you go back and reread the paragraph in which you allege I say things I never said.

I'm rarely wrong about PERS. I've spent 20 years of my life studying it while as a participant in it and a retiree from it.

Don't you pity the programmers who work for Intuit, TaxCut, and all the others who write income tax software for Oregon. Looks like I won't be doing my taxes until late, again, next year.

Jack ...

Exactly how are federal tax laws and rates relevant to the proposal to raise OREGON income taxes? And can you please explain to me the plethora of Oregon income tax "breaks" enjoyed by "the rich?"

Oregon has a fairly flat income tax structure with no reduction in amounts reported or rates for such things as capital gains, dividends, interest, or other forms of passive income. The standard deductions are so low, they're laughable, and the exemption credit is the same per dependent, regardless of income. There are a few subtractions that "the rich" might be able to take advantage of, but they're generally not related to income, but to facilitating various social goals (saving energy, etc.) Interest on things like municipal bonds is so low now that "the rich" hardly get any benefit from it, while the public benefits from lower interest costs on public projects.

I can see some of the outrage at the federal level. When we talk about state income taxes, however, "the rich" don't seem to get that much of a break here.

If raising taxes is such a great idea in this time of recession, why don't we adjust the rates upward for everyone (instead of 5, 7, and 9% brackets, let's use 6, 8, and 10%). "The rich" will pay more in absolute dollars, as they should, but everyone with taxable income will contribute in some small way to the solution. The current proposal seems cowardly. It's always easy to tax someone else.

Mr. Fearless, to most of us COLA is a "higher salary", contrary to your "We generally don't bitch about benefits. They were promised us in lieu of higher salaries". Many in the private sector do not have automatic cost of living increases. And they, like now, experience decreases that reflect the marketplace, sooner than later, and more deeply.

Plus, in most public employee classifications there is longevity on the job as well as performance standards that increases one's wages. Many in the private sector do not have guarantees of higher wages for longevity or performance.


I never received a single automatic COLA in my 33 years in higher education. Most of the union employees I worked with didn't either. Some union employees receive COLA increases but these only came as a result of negotiation, not because of the largesse of the employer. The COLA to which I referred in my post was for retirees, not active employees. People are confounding all sorts of things in with PERS. The ONLY thing I've ever referenced in my post are the erroneous interpretations of how PERS works. Clearly, there are many, many, many misunderstandings out there.

PERS is a good retirement system, but it isn't the fantastic deal some make it out to be. My wife works in the private sector and her benefits will make my look pitiful by comparison. And in her field, there are huge swaths of private employers that provide better salaries and better retirement benefits.

I agree only with your statement that "many in the private sector do not have automatic cost of living increases". To it, it would add, neither do many in the public sector either.


All the publicity (and Jack) says this bill only increasese taxes on high income people. But if you look at the tax tables, both the 5% and 7% brackets have shrunk, thus subjecting low incomer to higher taxes too. Pretty sneaky.


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