Stopping in to discuss state finance goals
Last week Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read spent Thursday, Feb. 14, in Woodburn as part of his ongoing quest to explore and learn about the varied communities within the state.
"I drive through here every day on my way to work, so it's nice to get a chance to stop in, spend some time and meet people here," said Read, who lives in Beaverton where he served as State Representative of the 27th District prior to being elected Treasurer in 2016.
Among his Woodburn stops were a speaking engagement at the Rotary luncheon and visits with Mayor Eric Swenson, Woodburn School Superintendent Chuck Ransom and the Woodburn Independent.
Read's stop-ins are similar to the town halls held by the state's U.S. senators and representatives, save that he confesses he doesn't quite make it to every area in one year as the senators do. However, scarcely more than two years into office, he has hit many regions, including Eugene, Bend, Medford, the Columbia Gorge, and much of the Oregon coast from Astoria to Bandon. Read welcomes his time away from Salem and out into the field as a chance to share thoughts about what topics and pursuits are chief to the treasurer's office.
He said at the top of the list are state investments in programs that support youth, especially educational opportunities, and senior citizens. A key topic within that fold is the Oregon College Savings Plan (OCSP), described by the treasurer's office as "A state-sponsored savings program that grows tax-free and can be used for qualified expenses like tuition, books, and room and board at any accredited, post-secondary institution."
Read, who hailed from Boise prior to attending Willamette University in Salem and University of Washington for graduate school, said the idea is to get ahead of the game. Rising costs of attending college has increased the debt loads of students before they leave school. OCSP aims at helping Oregon families save and earn compound interest in advance of entering post-secondary studies, alleviating much of the student-debt strains many young people carry when they enter a new career.
The treasury illustrated OCSP with a graphic (noting that returns vary with the market) that projected returns of 5, 7 and 9 percent, indicating a $500 annual investment plus compound interest leads to an estimated $18k after 18 years.
Read said to make this accessible to more Oregonians, the treasury is proposing an "Education Savings Credit" in lieu of current state tax deduction, realizing that lower-income families are more likely to take the standard deduction, less likely to itemize, rendering the tax deduction irrelevant to them.
The proposed tiered, refundable tax credit strives to provide incentive to maintain accounts in Oregon and encourage more low and moderate-income families to open accounts and save for college.
A treasury information brochure on the plan explains:
"The Education Savings Credit provides the same maximum credit to all Oregonians who are saving for college, community college, trade school, or any other type of accredited, post-secondary education. The primary difference between the credit and our current deduction is that the credit is designed to make it easier for low- and moderate-income families to take advantage of the incentive."
Read emphasized a peripheral benefit of the plan: Research shows that a youngsters who have a dedicated education account opened in their names are "three times more likely to enroll in a job training or college program and four times more likely to complete it."
Read, who as a representative served on the Oregon's Revenue Committee, along with Ways and Means, Transportation, Economic Development and Higher Education committees, discussed a number of other treasury-related topics, including investments that boost the Public Employees Retirement Fund, State Accident Insurance Fund, Common School Fund and the Oregon Short Term Fund.
As of the end of 2018 the treasury lists $100.7 billion in assets under investment management. Assets saved by Oregonians for education, retirement and disability-related costs add up to around $3.1 billion.
He said his visits around the state have been fairly well received, as far as he can gauge.
"It's hard for me to put myself into a skeptic's mindset; It's hard to imagine people not wanting to see money managed better, and managed in ways that can help them live happier and healthier," Read said.