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Reform spending, then the kicker

Our Opinion

Gov. Ted Kulongoski last week said he wants to reform the state's kicker law to better protect vital public services - such as education - against future economic downturns.

Kulongoski's bid to take these rebates away from taxpayers and redirect them instead to state coffers came just one day after voters increased corporate taxes and personal income taxes on high-income earners.

Oregonians should respond quickly to Kulongoski by asking: 'Just when, governor, are more taxes and fees not enough?'

Kulongoski is right to say that Oregon needs a larger savings account - or Rainy Day Fund - to protect state and local services from the cyclical variations of the economy. And he is correct to say that the state's unusual kicker law, which returns money to Oregonians and businesses when state revenue exceeds early-on projections by 2 percent or more, is in need of tweaking.

We admit the kicker is at best quirky. But Kulongoski and other supporters of kicker reform have their priorities out of order. They ignore the fact that this state's typical spending habits will outstrip available revenue long into the future.

Prior to asking for kicker reform, Oregon's first priority must be to create a strategic plan for programs AND budgeting that lasts longer than the present two-year cycle. State spending must be reformed to better match available revenue. The state should be required each year to deposit some existing revenue into the Rainy Day Fund.

It is time to examine and implement better mechanisms to reduce Oregon's reliance on the volatility of state income taxes. And it is time for state government to institute a job-creation strategy that local governments can embrace.

Only then should Kulongoski - or any future Oregon governor - ask voters to change the kicker law. Kicker reform shouldn't mean merely taking more money from Oregonians, but linking the kicker to state spending, economic-development and savings strategies that better serve citizens, vital services and our communities.