13 ways to address Oregon's revenue shortfall

Chuck Sheketoff

The Oregon legislature’s budget writing committee has begun to hear from Oregonians about how to deal with a $1.8 billion revenue shortfall. At a recent town hall in Portland, nearly everyone who spoke urged lawmakers to spare schools and other vital services from devastating cuts by raising revenue, especially from corporations.

The public’s message is spot on. It addresses the cause of the problem and forces the legislature to recognize that it can’t cut its way out of the mess.

Schools and other vital public services open the door of opportunity for Oregonians, and yet they suffer structural underfunding. Public schools’ budgets and programs, for example, have not recovered from the devastating impact of property tax changes in the 1990s. And today, a significant revenue shortfall in the upcoming budget period threatens to further erode education and other public services. Meanwhile, we have an Oregon tax code that is riddled with tax giveaways for corporations and the wealthy.

It’s imperative to both plug the current revenue shortfall and increase our investments in the public services that benefit everyone. With that in mind, here are 13 common sense options for raising revenue put together by the Oregon Center for Public Policy. Each of these options look to the most obvious places for additional revenue: businesses (mainly corporations) or high-income folks.

You won’t find on this list a call for a sales tax. While we appreciate that some Oregonians who want to see stronger schools and better public services would look to a sales tax for additional revenue, we think that for both policy and political reasons, a sales tax is not the place to focus the current conversation about raising revenue.

From a policy viewpoint, given today’s level of income inequality and paltry tax contributions from businesses, a sales tax is not where we would start to look for revenue. And from a political viewpoint, a sales tax seems dead on arrival. We know of no one with the financial means to run a referral campaign who thinks a sales tax is viable with the voters.

Good options exist for raising revenue to protect schools and vital services. Does the Oregon legislature have the political will to make the necessary changes? What’s needed to get them to that point?

Oregon Center for Public PolicyChuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

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