Talk Newspaper by Jeff Golden: Here's an idea worth stealing.
My Jan. 26 election ballot is on the desk, one corner under my keyboard as I write, waiting for my pen or No. 2 pencil. Next to it is a copy of last Sunday's Mail Tribune, open to the lead editorial: "No On Measures 66, 67: They are the wrong solution; business community must help find a better one."
Wrong, the editors say, because some struggling Oregon businesses will pay more even though they're not currently earning a profit. They advise us to kill both measures and start over: "The burden will be on [business and political leaders] to put aside their partisan wrangling and come up with an equitable solution. That solution exists. But it is not measures 66 and 67."
"That solution exists." Good to know. Since Ballot Measure 5 passed 20 years ago, plenty of public leaders, some smart and committed to real service, have been trying to find it. In 1993 I facilitated a weekly task force in Salem just for that purpose. Some good ideas surfaced. Each of them died in the room, because one or more of the heavyweight players around the table promised to kill them.
In this last session, legislative leaders tried to amend the bill that's become Measure 67 so that unprofitable businesses would pay little or no additional tax. That change couldn't muster enough votes, for reasons that aren't clear. (There's a "poison pill" theory floating around: Opponents wanted to preserve a nasty element that would make it easier to get voters to kill the whole thing.) So could we hear some actionable details about this great solution that exists?
Meanwhile I'll vote for these two measures, because I'm convinced of the need and don't think the "cut more fat" opponents have looked fairly at what's already been cut. And "¦ I agree that Measure 67 as written will unfairly damage some struggling businesses. If these measures pass, I'll be with those pressuring the incoming Legislature for corrective surgery to cancel or shrink the tax increase on unprofitable Oregon businesses, without letting off the hook multi-state corporations that have relentlessly milked our "business-friendly" tax loopholes.
Earlier in the 66/67 battle I wrote a column about how the charge of "class warfare" was thrown around "not to offer any data or evidence about whether a tax proposal is good or bad. Not to add the slightest ray of light to the conversation. Not to help anyone figure out a single thing," but simply and cynically to shame into silence anyone favoring a more progressive tax system. It's a transparent play for emotions over thinking, and it's crummy for democracy.
I still believe that. But as this campaign ends, a constantly airing TV spot gives me a better idea of why some call this class warfare. A series of just-plain-folks are talking straight to camera: "Wall Street took millions in bailouts." "To thank us, they jacked up our credit card rates and took huge bonuses." "A lot of these same corporations only pay the $10 corporate minimum tax." "They charge more than that in one late fee." "Measures 66 and 67 will require banks, credit card companies and the rich to finally pay their fair share of taxes." "Vote yes on 66 & 67."
Excuse me. Yes, Wall Street did take millions in bailouts — billions, actually — given to them by politicians they finance at election time, and yes, the money went to big bonuses and mergers and restoration of the same house-of-cards schemes that triggered the crash, not to easing credit and relieving mortgages like we were promised. And yes, some of those same firms have walloped many of the same taxpayers who provided those bail-out dollars with bank overdraft or credit-card late fees that are purposely hard to track and understand.
But why are we hearing about all that now, again and again and again, especially when most who would pay more under these measures have nothing to do with credit cards and banking? To help us thoughtfully weigh these intricate tax and revenue questions, or to uncork our rage at what's happened to this country?
Some will say that "the rich" have been rolling us so relentlessly that I'm making too fine a point; let's take any chance we have to stick it back to them, and never mind the details. But here's the thing: We've been complaining bitterly that the manipulation of resentment and fear has become the primary tool of American politics, giving us endless pre-emptive war in the name of 9/11 and the gutting of basic constitutional rights to fight the terrorists under our beds. We want these guys to knock it off. But if we play the same game when given the chance, different in magnitude but similar in integrity, why should they?
This isn't about playing nice. It's about breaking a disastrous cycle of peddling fear and resentment. There's evidence that stoking our passions about terrorists or mega-rich Wall Streeters wins battles. But all of us are losing the war.
Daily Tidings columnist Jeff Golden is the author of "Forest Blood," "As If We Were Grownups" and the novel "Unafraid," with excerpts available at www.unafraidthebook.com.