May 17 guest opinion
"I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle."
– Winston Churchill
The state of Oregon is facing a major fiscal dilemma that could have been addressed years ago. Unfortunately, a combination of greed, carelessness and a lack of leadership has set Oregon on a path for a budgetary crisis. The Oregonian reported on Jan. 28 that Oregon is facing a $1.8 billion budget deficit despite the state collecting a record amount of revenue. There is no logical reason for Oregon to be on the brink of a budgetary crisis, except for years of mismanagement and dysfunction.
In his 2011 inaugural address, then-Gov. John Kitzhaber said that the state was "spending more on problems than we are investing in people." Six years later, not much has changed. Our leaders must create solutions-based public policy. Far too often the Legislature tries to alleviate the effect of problems instead of solving them. We deserve better from our elected leaders. It starts with the Legislature reforming Oregon's tax code and our Public Employee Retirement System (PERS).
An Oregonian article published in March shows that Oregon's top PERS recipients earn an average of $386,209 a year. These pension plans are unrealistic and the state can no longer afford them. A meaningful reform would require cost of living adjustments be tied to the consumer price index to ensure that retirees are getting a fair and reasonable cost of living adjustment. It is not fair to our current public employees to promise them a pension from a retirement system that is on the verge of bankruptcy.
Instead of spearheading these efforts, our legislative leaders have used scare tactics to justify raising taxes on businesses and wealthy Oregonians. This is a blatant disregard to the will of Oregon voters who rejected a corporate sales tax increase by more than 350,000 votes last November. State economists warned that this tax increase would have significantly hurt consumers, especially low-income Oregonians. Yet, the Legislature sees tax increases as the only option. This is a mistake that only prolongs the problem.
More taxation will not address Oregon's budgetary problems. By eliminating certain deductions and streamlining the tax code, Oregon could boost revenue and ensure more fairness for Oregon taxpayers without raising rates. Realistically, tax rates should not need to be increased during a time of record revenue. Legislative leaders must accept that Oregon has a spending problem. Collecting more tax dollars through an outdated tax code is not a realistic solution. We cannot afford to continue with a haphazard status quo.
Evan Bryan is a native of Hillsboro and is pursuing a master's degree in legislative affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.