I've loved Oregon's independent streak since I moved here from California in 1971. But being pioneering and one-of-a-kind in the country isn't always something to be proud of.
Let's evaluate some examples of this state's legislative quirkiness.
First assisted suicide law ...great.
First bottle bill ...great.
First statewide land use planning law ...great.
Oregon beach bill ...great. (Hawaii only other state that guarantees public access)
Oregon medical marijuana bill ...great. (Second state to have one, after California)
Ban on self-service gas ...OK (New Jersey only other state with a ban)
No sales tax ...stupid (one of five states without one)
Oregon kicker law ...SUPER stupid
Well, five of eight "great's" is a good score.
I gave a grudging "OK" to the ban on pumping our own gas because I like to sit in my car and play with my iPhone when it's cold or rainy (which is a lot of the time). But on nice days when a gas station is busy, I'd prefer to be able to do it myself.
It's the last two items that cause Oregon the most idiosyncratic financial grief. And they're related.
Lacking a sales tax, and with property tax revenues limited by Measure 5, government revenues in the state are heavily reliant on income taxes. Obviously these go up when times are good, and down when times are bad.
However, the absolute stupidest thing Oregon does is refund income taxes when the projection of what those taxes will bring in during a two year period is off by 2% or more.
Only one state, quirky Oregon, engages in this insanity -- known as the "kicker" (because income taxes get kicked back to those who paid them).
Conservatives like to say that government should be run like a business. This is a great argument for doing away with the kicker.
What business would refund money to customers who bought their stuff if its actual revenues turned out to be higher than projected in the business plan? Answer: no company that wanted to stay in business.
The Oregonian's editorial board correctly said today, "Bust, boom, bust: Oregon is kicking itself again."
Here we go again, with the state fresh from handing back a billion dollars to taxpayers, ready again to shutter courts, take police off the roads, dent schools and go to taxpayers, hat in hand, for more revenue.
This is dumb, dumb, dumb, yet Oregon can't seem to stop doing it. The question now is, have you seen enough yet? Are you willing to give up the occasional unexpected Christmas tax rebate check -- temporarily -- to allow your state to build an adequate rainy day fund?
I'd like to see the kicker law done away with. But proposed changes to the kicker are moves in the right direction.
Arguments in favor of keeping the law as it is make zero sense.
Right-wingers call limiting the kicker a tax increase, which obviously it isn't. The stupid kicker law simply prevents the state from keeping legitimate tax revenues just because the state economist wasn't able to accurately forecast how much money would come in two years down the line.
If conservatives like the kicker philosophy so much, then they should be willing to forego an unexpected raise or stock market windfall if their family budget didn't anticipate this increased income.
(Here's a cartoon that sums up the kicker craziness.)
Hopefully Oregonians will recognize the wisdom of changing the kicker law. There are times when being the only state in the country doing something means Oregon should stop doing it, because it's a dumb idea.
The first few comments about the newspaper editorial were right-wing talk show'ish nonsensical. I liked how an assistant editor at the Oregonian, Rick Attig, jumped into the discussion with his own cogent comment.
Please give the piece another, more careful read. It says the kicker
policy, and the effect of closing schools one year, sending back a big
kicker check the next, then shutting down courts and scrambling not to
close schools again is "dumb, dumb, dumb." That's hardly the same as
calling voters "dumb." Tombdragon, are there any policies this state
has that you think are dumb? And if the answer is yes, does that
therefore mean that you are calling the Oregon electorate dumb? You all
are, of course, free to be as cynical as you want to be about the
Legislature or the political leadership in this state about whether
they can be trusted to save tax reserves. But that doesn't give you a
license to deliberately twist the meaning of our editorial.
Rather than use our blog and the comments we encourage to invite our readers to stop reading the paper, why don't you argue this editorial it on its merits? Why is a public finance system that has wreaked havoc with the state budget over the last 10 years the right one for Oregon?
Rick Attig, Associate Editor
Right on, Rick.