It is a rare occurrence when I find myself agreeing with The Oregonian in an editorial. Last Sunday they came out *against* Ballot Measures 66 and 67. As someone who has supported nearly every tax increase ballot measure and opposed every tax limitation measure, my view of M66 and M67 will surprise many.
I am categorically opposed to the measures introduced by the Legislature and which we will vote on anytime between now and January 26, 2010. My opposition is not to the principle of tax increases, but as an objection to the methods and ways the Legislature sneaked in all sorts of nasty things into these "reforms" and increases. They did not even consider alternatives and any legislator who tries to convince me otherwise is dissembling.
I don't doubt that the schools need more money, that higher education, and human services need more money. But, the Legislature chose two groups to single out for PERMANENT tax increases and did so in the most perverse of ways.
First, let's discuss M66. This is advertised as a simple increase of 1.8% in the marginal tax rate of personal income taxes on singles who earn more than $125,000 per year and joint filers who earn more than $250,000 per year. What isn't made clear is that this is only part of the story. Not stated is the fact that (1) the tax increase is permanent; (2) the tax increase is retroactive to January 1, 2009; (3) the marginal rate rises to 11% on incomes over $500,000; (4) M66 phases out the deduction of federal income taxes paid from $5600 to $4000 on incomes up to $290,000, and then to $0 on incomes above that. All tolled, instead of raising the marginal rate from 9% to 10.8% or 11%, the effective marginal rate rises to close to 12.5% or 13% in most cases. This is an outrage. This is enough to drive many individuals who contribute large sums of money to the Oregon Treasury to consider moving out of Oregon. Who will pay the 54% of taxes individuals or couples in those income brackets currently pay when many decide to pick up and move across the river to Washington and base their employment out of WA. Most people in those income brackets are pretty mobile. We certainly are.
To me, it is outrageous to expect that those 1% of taxpayers pick up an additional 5% of the state's revenue, while the rest of the taxpayers get by scott free (or so they think).
Measure 67 is a slightly different story. I am not opposed to raising the minimum tax for business from $10 to $150. While it is significant in percentage terms, it is not significant in dollar terms. But the Legislature wasn't content to leave the tax alone. Instead, they changed the basis of the tax as well. It used to be that the $10 was the minimum tax a business paid regardless of its profits or losses. However, the new minimum tax is now based on gross receipts before expenses are deducted. So a small business whose sales are, say, $60,000 will pay taxes on that amount rather than paying taxes on the NET sales after expenses. A business with $60,000 gross receipts and a net profit of $2000 will be paying about 30x as much in taxes as before. I can't think of a more regressive form of taxation. Instead of encouraging small business to work harder to up their gross receipts, this measure punishes them for succeeding regardless of the expenses needed to up gross receipts.
Since I have made it a practice to try, whenever possible, to patronize small business (my dry cleaners, my local independent service station, my local hardware store, my barber, etc), this will result in them having to pass on the tax increase in the form of raising prices. This, in turn, may drive me back to the big box stores I try to avoid. And the big box stores won't even be fazed by this change in the tax structure.
So, while the Legislature had dozens of different opportunities to come to grips with Oregon's terrible tax structure, its moronic "kicker" law, and the prospect of a "temporary" tax increase, they managed to choose the most offensive forms of tax increases imaginable. Instead of providing measures to increase tax fairness, to spread the burden equally (or semi-equally) across the various tax brackets, they chose a path designed to antagonize the two groups of people who contribute more in raw dollars to Oregon's treasury than anyone else, and to do it in a blatantly dishonest and disingenuous way. Read the ballot titles and then read the tax measures themselves. Ask yourself just how much information isn't being shared in the ballot title.
Don't let the cries of "woe is me" and "the sky will fall" fool you. The Oregon Legislature's special session will not convene until AFTER the results of this election are in. They will have time to come up with a set of alternatives to these tax measures in ample time to prevent the sky from falling. They're telling you that this will leave a $700 million hole in the budget, but they fail to tell you how big the 2010 "kicker" will be. It isn't that there isn't enough money; it's that the Legislature doesn't want to try to spend it. I call BS and urge people to think very carefully before voting on these measures.
The "rich" and "business" are two convenient "whipping people" for those who like to engage in "class warfare". However, the "rich" won't all be paying these taxes. The ordinary citizen of Oregon will end up paying these taxes in the form of higher prices and diminished services. In addition, both businesses and individuals/couples that are mobile will simply pick up and cross the river as soon as possible. I know that we will.
Oregon no longer owns the patent on "psychic income". I don't feel richer because I live in Oregon. It used to be that Oregon sold itself as the land of milk and honey. Now, I'm afraid, Oregon's reputation is simply the land of a cowardly government that uses emotional blackmail to try to get citizens to do the dirty work that the Legislature and Governor refuse to do. It is always easy to vote for taxes that affect someone else. But believe me, these taxes will come back to haunt everyone if they pass.
I know this entry will piss off many of my friends and colleagues still working in the public sector. I'm sorry that you feel that way. But just remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Note: added 1/12/10. For those of you who may want to take advantage of the special deal to convert traditional IRAs to a Roth IRA, expect the conversion to come under the M66 effects. Just another bite from retirement savings. Major bummer.