Come on, state budget chiefs. You owe the businesses and citizens of Oregon a lot more clarity on your tax-hike plans. And it should have been clear when you released your budget on May 18.
Trying to make up for a $3.8 billion shortfall, Portland Democrat Sen. Margaret Carter and Ashland Democrat Rep. Peter Buckley outlined balancing the budget with a mix of cuts, higher taxes and using federal stimulus and rainy day reserves, plus $800,000 in new tax revenue.
It is easy to see in their detailed spreadsheet where the cuts are, but it's impossible to figure out what they are thinking about new taxes because it's not there. Oh, a few general ideas have been floated, including raising taxes on households earning $250,000 or more, and the Legislature has been eyeing raising taxes on beer and cigarettes. But nothing even that specific was in the blueprint.
The Oregon Business Association has stepped up to provide concrete suggestions as to how businesses can step up to help the shortfall. (Associated Oregon Industries told me a few weeks ago that it's not ready to do the same.) On May 21, the Oregon Business Plan protested the proposals presented that morning to the House Revenue Committee that called for increasing corporate taxes by 42%, increasing corporate tax rates from 6.8% to 8.2% and creating a gross receipts tax as a basis for setting the corporate minimum tax, and issued its recommendations on what to do.
The co-chairs' vague statement that “businesses in our state that have prospered” would be targeted was just plain dumb. Now, whether you agree with that philosophy or not isn’t the point. It’s just bad leadership. What company in Oregon now feels good about “prospering?” Or even doing business here?
The Republicans, rightly, immediately pounced on that, saying the Dems are hurting the very businesses needed to help the state out of the recession, and that it will hit small employers hardest. The co-chairs, rightly, say they have a huge challenge on their hands to balance the budget and still provide critical services to many constituents. It’s a pretty thankless task.
But come on. How about thinking it through before you pour gasoline on the fire? You may still want to burn down the house, but at least you gave everyone fair warning.
Robin Doussard is the Editor of Oregon Business.