The Oregonian Editorial Board And Measures 66 and 67: Why I’m Reminded of Friends Who Cling to Abusive Relationships
As you may know, I have generally had a very good relationship with the Oregonian editorial board. So it saddens me to see them on the wrong side of Measures 66 and 67, the measures I am currently working for. What’s particularly frustrating is that they seem to have been sweet-talked by some corporate lobbyists into believing that the same corporations who are pouring money into a Sizemore-style “taxes are evil and government is bloated” campaign are poised to turn around and throw all their resources into somehow getting voters to accept a mythical Kumbaya alternative to Measures 66 and 67 that will solve everyone’s problems.
All of us have had friends who, while otherwise smart and thoughtful people, have been in lengthy destructive relationships with bad-news boyfriends or girlfriends. They keep on thinking they’ll somehow change his or her spots. Makes you want to tear your hair out, and/or check them into some kind of destructive-relationship detox center. That’s how I feel about the Oregonian editorial board today. “When will you stop listening to these corporate lobbyists? Don’t you understand that they’ll never change? There are nice boys and girls who have good values. Why don’t you date one of them?”
The Oregonian wants to believe there’s some other way to prevent deep cuts to education, health care and public safety than by raising taxes on rich people and corporations. Here are a few of the reasons that they’re wrong:
We tried things the Oregonian’s way in 2003 and 2004 – and we lost. In 2003 and 2004, temporary, across-the-board tax increases were passed by the Legislature, with ‘business support,’ and then defeated at the ballot. The first time, the Legislature referred the measure directly to voters. The next time, the hard right anti-tax forces gathered the signatures needed for a referral. Some of the business organizations that the Oregonian editorial board is talking to gave their names to those measures, and some even gave token campaign contributions – but not nearly enough to support a serious campaign. We wound up throwing 50,000 people off the Oregon Health Plan, closing schools early around the State, and telling thousands of seniors and people with disabilities that we no longer considered them “disabled enough” to get assistance. If Measures 66 and 67 lose, the hard right anti-tax forces will be poised to refer any alternative tax measure to the ballot, and there is no reason to think we would not see exactly the same result as in 2003 and 2004 – especially since…
The tax opponents are running a campaign designed to prevent any tax increase from passing for the foreseeable future. The tax opponents’ campaign is not telling voters “we need some other kind of tax increase.” The ad on TV right now claims that the Legislature irresponsibly increased spending by billions of dollars. In fact, the tax opponents attack the Legislature’s past efforts to pass temporary taxes, saying, on the Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes web site, “voters have rejected income tax increases twice before, but the legislature keeps coming back for more.” If that campaign succeeds, it will be because a majority of voters will have been convinced that the state simply does not need additional money for vital services. In the capitol, no Republicans will vote for a tax increase, and it’s impossible to believe that Democrats in swing districts will vote yes during an election year. It’s extremely unlikely that any new tax will make it through the legislature and besides,
Oregon voters have proved time and again that if you ask them the same question twice, in rapid succession, they will give you the same answer, much louder, the second time. Whether the issue is hunting bears with bait (and bears and cougars with dogs), or tax increases (Measure 30 in 2004 lost by a wider margin than 28 in 2003), or “death with dignity,” Oregon voters have shown a strong tendency to say “what part of what we said last time did you not understand?” If voters oppose budget-balancing measures now, in which most of them will not see a tax increase, they will not support one in a few months. Therefore,
It would be fiscally irresponsible for the Legislature to do anything but start making cuts immediately if these measures fail. The longer the Legislature postpones making $727 million in cuts, the deeper the cuts will be as a percentage of the budget. If these measures are defeated, it is a certainty that the far right will refer any new measures. It will take time to gather signatures; it will take time to hold an election. Every day that goes by will increase the percentage of the remaining budget that $727 million represents. Since any second bite at the apple will likely lose, the only responsible thing for the Legislature to do is start cutting immediately.
As to the Oregonian’s comments about the kicker: First of all, right now it’s a red herring; there is no kicker to kick to transform into a rainy day fund—revenue estimates are dropping, not rising. Second, again, the campaign the anti-tax forces are running is designed to undermine any chance for a kicker-to-rainy-day-fund effort. Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes say that “the state already had $1 billion in cash reserves to spend.” If the tax opponents succeed in convincing voters that the State had plenty of reserves already, why exactly would voters think we need to convert the kicker into a rainy day fund?
Secondly, the Oregonian should remember that the kicker did go to the ballot in 2000. The Republican Legislature referred a measure to put the kicker in the Constitution. It passed overwhelmingly. The Oregon AFL-CIO, the League of Women Voters, and John Kitzhaber submitted voters’ pamphlet statements against it. None of the businesses or business organizations now opposing 66 and 67 – who have apparently convinced the Oregonian that they are eager to support kicker reform – even bothered to shell out the few hundred bucks it takes to do that.
Penultimately, it’s important to note that the Oregonian wants to believe there’s a “better way” – but has no suggestions as to what that “better way” might be. Do they want across the board tax increases? We tried that in 2003 and 2004; California just tried it last year. We lost; they lost.
The Oregonian objects to a tax on corporations that isn’t just based on profits. Aren’t they aware that every other state has such a tax? Or that even the House Republican plan in 2007 was based on gross receipts, as was the Oregon Business Association plan in 2009? In most states corporations pay sales taxes on the materials they buy – a tax that isn’t based on profit, and which is on average, the second-highest tax corporations pay. (If we adopted a 5% sales tax tomorrow, it would be a $2 billion a biennium tax increase on business – although our taxes on business would STILL be below average.) In the other non-sales tax states – well, Delaware has a gross receipts tax much bigger than our new graduated minimum; New Hampshire has a corporate enterprise tax based largely on payroll; Alaska and Montana, as mining-and-oil states, get a lot of money from corporations through extraction taxes.
Finally, the Oregonian is ignoring the many public-spirited business people and rich people who are supporting Measures 66 and 67. What about the Tim Berrys, the Arthur Grahams, the Debra Motts, the Bob Burys? What does the Oregonian think they are, chopped liver? No, they’re not. They and the rest of the 60-plus businesses who’ve endorsed a Yes vote are nice, smart people who recognize that businesses and rich people who have benefited the most from living in a civilized society can give a little back to support the continuation of civilization. Who recognize that businesses benefit from the existence of an education system, and a public safety system, and that moving from 48th to 46th in the country in taxes on business is not too high a price to pay to preserve those services. They – not the corporations pouring money into the anti-tax campaign – are the Oregonian’s natural allies. They’re the nice boys and girls the Oregonian should be dating.