Residence hall panel debates tax crisis

Oregon voters from the left and the right must approach Oregon’s tax problem by asking themselves what type of state they want, a panel of experts said Tuesday.

A student advisory group for the University residence hall series “Campus Conversations” organized the panel, titled “Oregon’s Tax Crisis,” in preparation for the upcoming vote on Measure 30. If passed, the measure will temporarily increase income taxes, increase some business taxes and decrease certain tax discounts.

“So many students just don’t know what they’re voting about, and then they just don’t vote,” the student advisory group’s Co-President Alie Sewell said.

Measure 30 would prevent $544.6 million in cuts to education, public safety and social services, according to the Oregon Legislature.

The panel — consisting of a Democratic state senator, a local school board member, a Republican Party representative, the director of a conservative lobbying group and a former Democratic state representative — spent nearly two hours agreeing that Oregon was in crisis, but differing widely in how they thought the problem should be fixed.

The right-leaning panelists called for lower taxes and a better business environment, while the left called for support of social services. All agreed, however, that in the words of moderator Jackman Wilson, tax reform is “one of the most important public policy issues that has faced Oregonians in a long time.”

State Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said a committee of legislators is meeting to look at ways of overhauling Oregon’s tax system, but critics on both sides questioned whether the group will come up with any meaningful reform.

“The reality is, we as a state have to figure out what we want and how we’re going to pay for it,” Prozanski said.

For now, the only funding option Oregon voters have before them is Measure 30.

Russ Walker, director of Oregon Citizens for a Sound Economy, has led the charge against the ballot measure. The state needs to be more efficient in its spending, not raise taxes, he said.

“Anybody who says taxes don’t matter does not spend any time with businesses and business leaders,” he said.

Bringing additional taxes to a state with a high unemployment rate and low rate of job creation only further discourages businesses from coming to Oregon, Walker said.

“You have to leave the state of Oregon to get a job in many cases,” he told the nearly 30 students in attendance.

Prozanski responded to Walker’s portrait of Oregon’s business climate by citing Oregon’s Office of Economic Analysis, which estimates that Oregon’s economy will improve in the coming months.

He later added that if Measure 30 does not pass, the Department of Higher Education will lose $7.5 million, and he estimated that universities would make up that shortfall by raising tuition once again.

Former state representative Kitty Piercy focused her comments on the community’s social welfare.

She said that as a member of the Lane County Commission on Children and Families, she regularly sees the negative impact that a loss of funding has on social services and community members.

Piercy said University students are included in that tax payer bracket and should think about the impact that their vote on Measure 30 will have.

“I’d like each of you to leave here with some concern for your community,” she said.

While opposing panelists disagreed on the path they wanted to take to solve Oregon’s tax crisis, they agreed that the state did need to address the issue.

“There isn’t good or evil here,” said panelist and 4-J school board member Tom Herrmann. “I think the debate about Measure 30 … is really a debate about what we want Oregon to be.”