Guest opinion by Judith G. Benjamin: Educating our children and young people is a chief concern of most Oregonians, yet because of a decrease in state funds we have seen our school year cut.
Educating our children and young people is a chief concern of most Oregonians, yet because of a decrease in state funds we have seen our school year cut. The Legislature has worked hard to make up the deficit in revenues, using rainy day funds, reducing services and baring the budget on its Web site for citizen input on any possible ways to eliminate waste in spending. In the end, the Legislature adopted measures 66 and 67 to resolve the budget shortfall and take a major step toward financial stability.
The arguments against these measures have come largely from the business community. Small businesses, however, will hardly feel the effect. Their minimum tax will now be raised from $10 a year, a sum first set in 1931, to $150, the current equivalent. The greater impact of Measure 67 will be on large corporations doing business in Oregon. Heretofore the majority have managed to pay only the $10 minimum since their deductions for business expenses have enabled them to show no profit on their tax returns. Under Measure 67, however, gross sales will now be considered along with profits, so that any company with sales of $500,000 or more will now pay a tax that will be about 1/10 of 1 percent on those proceeds beginning at $500,000. A company with sales less than a half a million will pay the minimum tax of $150. Sales beyond $500,000 will be taxed on a graduated scale, capped at $100,000 on sales of $100 million or more.
Even with the new levies on sales that large businesses will now need to pay and the slight tax increase on profits, Oregon will still only have climbed from next to the bottom in business taxes to the fifth-lowest among the 50 states.
Personal income taxes are high in Oregon, but the slight increase under Measure 66 will affect few Oregonians and only those best able to pay. Individuals with taxable income $125,000 ($250,000 for a couple filing jointly) and above now will be charged 1.8 percent more on this additional income, dropping in half in 2012. On the other hand, people receiving unemployment insurance will now be exempt from paying state income taxes.
The charges are made that these costs to large businesses and affluent Oregonians will mean a loss in jobs at a time when the state is suffering double-digit unemployment. If the Golden Triangle in North Carolina or SiliconValley in California are any indication of what brings business to a state, educational resources and a well-educated workforce are a far greater consideration than the personal income taxes successful entrepreneurs may need to face.
I have a distant cousin who lives in Vancouver, Wash., and works at home. His wife works in Portland. He has told me that Oregon's income taxes were a consideration for them, and he knows of others who feel the same way. Yet many more people live in Portland than in Vancouver, attracted by the variety of restaurants and cultural activities that its Washington neighbor can't match. And people keep moving to Portland. At the other end of the state, Ashland continues to gain population, while Hilt just across the border remains a dot on the map. Judging by the many cars with California license plates I see parked in front of our shopping centers, Californians do enjoy doing business in Southern Oregon.
Our lack of a sales tax brings customers to Oregon, but it also forces the state to seek revenue from other sources to meet the requirement of a balanced budget. At a time when one out of every six Oregonians is receiving food stamps, the state has had to find a way to respond that is fair to all Oregonians.
The Legislature has shown its responsibility to the people of Oregon. Let's do the same. Join me in voting "yes" on measures 66 and 67.
Judith G. Benjamin is a past president of the League of Women Voters of Ashland and currently serves on the board. She's lived in Ashland since 1998.