The election issue of the day for Oregonians isn’t the Democratic presidential primary. Only Iowa, New Hampshire and the Super Tuesday states will really get a say in the process, not us.
We have our own question; whether to pass a tax increase on ourselves in an economic downturn.
We have had ballot measures on taxes, both for raises and cuts, every few years. These are usually pretty sad examples of democracy in action.
The problem is that when they designed the voting process back in the day, they expected that an informed citizenry could decide things for themselves.
You think you know how it all works? Raise your hand if you paid attention in economics class. That’s what I thought.
Most of us have no idea how the state government gets money or where it goes, yet somehow we believe we have prior knowledge.
We all have feelings about taxes, but I wouldn’t call it knowledge or informed opinion, because it doesn’t deserve to be called that.
Unfortunately, these feelings we have reveal more about our personality than our state government, but that’s another issue.
To decide this issue, one has to understand some economic basics. A good place to start is a document called “7 frequently asked questions about taxes and spending in Oregon.” This was assembled by actual OSU economists. It utilizes publicly available data from credible sources, and cites them all very clearly. And don’t worry, it’s short, with lots of pictures.
The FAQ sheet explains how we came to have such a severe shortfall and shows some interesting state by state comparisons. Find it at http://eesc.oregonstate.edu/agcomwebfile/edmat/em8853.pdf.
Measure 30, for those who are uninitiated, recently awakened from a coma, or were made stupid from watching television news, is the ballot initiative due next Tuesday to raise taxes to make up for a large projected state budget shortfall.
It was put on the ballot by the Legislature, and was supported by much of the Republican leadership there as well as most Democrats and the governor. Some of the taxes are temporary, some aren’t.
The state has a budget problem for many reasons — the main one being the economic cycle. When personal incomes and the stock market increased rapidly in the 1990s, there was lots of tax revenue. We were able to cut tax rates and increase spending.
We should have saved money back then for the inevitable cyclical downturn. But we’re dumb and shortsighted, so we didn’t. Now the downturn has come (it actually isn’t a recession anymore), and we find that revenues decreased sharply, while the need for government hasn’t.
I will be voting for the tax increase for two reasons. One is that it is the right thing to do. The other is, I’m pissed off at all the sophists, like Kevin Mannix, The Oregonian’s David Reinhard and the Citizens for a Sound Economy, who are using misinformation and blatant lies to defeat the measure.
In the Jan. 18 issue of The Oregonian, Republican gubernatorial Kevin Mannix tells us, “We can defeat this tax and still fund our kids’ education, protect our seniors and help our most vulnerable citizens.”
He goes on to list a few budget proposals, including: rescinding the $250 bonus the governor gave to nonunion state workers; stopping the filling in of vacancies in state government; reducing the number of managers; using the $135 million anticipated balance; reforming the Department of Economic Development (DED) and trying harder to collect delinquent tax debts.
These ideas are plain weak. The bonuses given to workers are standard and amounted to only $3 million, after state workers accepted pay and benefit cuts of over $1 billion dollars.
By firing managers and not filling vacancies, we end up with things not getting done right or not getting done at all.
The ending balance won’t be there without the tax increase, so this is a bald lie.
The DED budget is also only a few million and the delinquent tax receipts will be difficult and expensive to collect.
So the question is, does Mannix have any good ideas? Doesn’t seem like it.
Columnist Reinhard is a fan of the statistical approach. For example, proponents of Measure 30 often cite the need to protect school funding as a prime reason for a tax increase.
To this Reinhard asks, “… are we giving short shrift to public schools and other government services? Not if one compares Oregon with other states across the land. Oregon ranked 20th nationally in K-12 spending per student for 2001-2002.”
There is actually a whole column full of similar statistics in the Jan. 11 Oregonian. The statistics are all notable in that they range in reference dates from 1998 to 2002. The school one is notable because it doesn’t account for the whopping 8 percent drop in per pupil spending in 2003.
That may not seem like a big decline, but imagine if you woke up tomorrow 8 percent shorter, or heavier. Then, it would seem like a lot.
The Citizens for a Sound Economy, on their Web site, (http://www.cse.org/informed/issues_template.php?issue_id=1664) tell us that “the state should be looking at existing agency fund balances, vacant positions, further PERS reforms and other money already available in the system.”
They would have us believe that there is money somehow secretly available that the Legislature just isn’t telling us about — but they won’t say where.
This despite the fact that both the Democrat governor and Republican Legislature leaders, who had pledged not to raise taxes, were forced into politically damaging reversals by their overwhelming inability to find easy money.
The ideology of the antitax movement seems to be that government is just a big wasteful entity that does nothing good and is out to steal our money.
If you believe that schools and universities, police, courts, corrections, public health and welfare are wasteful uses of money, then vote no, and be a big delusional prick.
If you think that all these agencies, which have already taken 5 to 10 percent budget cuts in each of the last two years, will put our money to good use, then vote yes on Measure 30.
Sanjai Tripathi is a columnist for The Daily Barometer. The opinions expressed in his columns, which appear every Wednesday, do not necessarily represent those of The Barometer staff. Tripathi can be reached at email@example.com.