Stop Health Care Taxes dot com

By Steve Buckstein

The Oregon legislature just passed, and the Governor signed, a bill designed to generate some $550 million in new taxes on health care, hospitals, and health insurance premiums. Ostensibly, this money is needed to help balance the budget, even after strong revenue growth, and to help maintain the controversial Medicaid expansion.

According to an Oregonian editorial, when word got out that someone might refer these new taxes to the ballot, legislative leaders showed “how they’re willing to protect that new revenue at all cost—even hijacking the referendum process at the core of Oregon’s identity.”

“Worse, however, the bill tosses aside the usual process requiring impartial groups to describe the measure on the ballot and in the voter’s pamphlet. Instead, [they gave] all that power to a committee made up of four Democrats and two Republicans.”

They also moved the referendum vote up from November 2018 to a January special election that will cost taxpayers more than $3 million.

The petitioners have just 90 days to collect nearly 59,000 valid voter signatures to refer the most egregious of these new taxes to the ballot.

These allow insurance companies to pass on to many of us, their policyholders, a new 1.5 percent tax on health insurance premiums in the state, at a time when premiums are rising out of sight already.

If you want to vote on the new premium taxes, go to, download, sign and return a Petition sheet today.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Floor Memo Regarding Bond Funding for the Elliott State Forest

TO: Members of the Oregon Legislature

FM: John Charles for Cascade Policy Institute

RE: SB 5505/Elliott State Forest Bonds

DT: July 5, 2017 

SB 5505 includes bond funding for many worthy projects. Unfortunately, it also includes authorization for the sale of $101 million in Certificates of Participation for the purpose of “buying out” part of the Elliott State Forest (ESF), which we already own.

The State Land Board chose this option in May rather than taking a cash offer of $220.8 million to sell most of the ESF, which is losing money for schools.  While this “feel good” measure appeased many environmental interests, what has never been discussed publicly is the long-term opportunity cost of borrowing $101 million and paying $199 million in debt service over 25 years, instead of investing $220.8 million of new money into the Common School Fund.

The graphic below attempts to do that over a 50-year period, using an average total return rate of 5.58% (the actual rate over the past 10 years). The gap between the blue and red lines is the estimated loss to schools in the annual payouts from the CSF. Note that the gap widens over time and can never be made up. Over the lifetime of the Fund – which is infinity – your approval of the bond sale will result in many billions of dollars lost to Oregon schools.



Who says Oregon pays public school teachers more than other states? The National Education Association, that’s who!

By Steve Buckstein

As Oregon legislators wrestle with how much money to spend on public education, advocates claim that we spend too little compared to other states. They demand that legislators spend more, and raise taxes to do it. But, according to the nation’s largest teachers union, the reality is quite different.

As I noted recently, in its Rankings & Estimates report for 2016 and 2017, the National Education Association says that Oregon spends more per student than 33 other states: $13,320 per Average Daily Attendee versus $12,572 nationally.

Another interesting finding in the NEA report is how much Oregon pays its public school teachers. In 2015-16 it shows the average teacher salary in the country was $58,343, compared to $60,459 here in Oregon. We spend three percent more on teacher salaries than the national average.*

But, the report also shows that our per capita personal income is nine percent less than the national average: $48,783 versus $43,783.

So, while we pay our teachers three percent more, we do that out of incomes that are nine percent less than the average American. Add those two numbers together, and it’s clear that based on our ability to pay we compensate Oregon teachers very well.

All this data add weight to the argument that we don’t need new taxes to better fund public education. We fund it very well already.

*“Where applicable, ‘average teacher salary’ includes the contract amount plus 6 percent for the employer portion of retirement contributions.” Page 146 of the NEA report.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Education Savings Account Informational Hearing Testimony in Favor of SB 437

Before the Senate Education Committee

By Steve Buckstein
Cascade Policy Institute

Chair Roblan and members of the Committee, my name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and Founder at Cascade Policy Institute, a public policy research organization based in Portland.

I want to share some thoughts about the value of Education Savings Accounts in general, and SB 437 in particular, which we’ve branded the Educational Opportunity Act: The Power of Choice.

Next, Professor Eric Fruits will briefly discuss the Fiscal Impacts of the bill.

Finally, you’ll hear from Oregon’s 2012 Mother of the Year, Bobbie Jager, about the importance of providing different educational options for different children.

School Choice programs allow students to choose schools or other educational resources and pay for them with a portion of the tax funding that otherwise would go to the public school assigned to them by their ZIP code.

While school choice is popular with large segments of the public, opponents worry that specific programs like vouchers or Education Savings Accounts may drain funds from the public school system.*

What these concerns overlook is that public funding for K-12 education should actually help educate students, not simply fund schools whether or not they meet specific student needs.

The latest and most versatile school choice programs being enacted across the country are Education Savings Accounts. Unlike vouchers, which only let parents pay for private school tuition, ESA funds may also be used for other approved educational expenses, such as online learning programs, private tutoring, community college costs, and other customized learning services and materials.

Also, while voucher funds all go to private school tuition or are lost to the families, funds remaining in ESA accounts each year may be “rolled over” for use in subsequent years, even into college. This creates incentives for families to “shop” for the best educational experiences at the lowest cost, as well as incentives for schools and educational programs to price their services as low as possible, not as high as possible as might be done under a voucher program.

Five states already have limited ESA programs. Nevada passed a near-universal ESA program in 2015, but its legislature has yet to fund it. In November 2015 your Committee heard from the author of that bill, 16-year public school teacher and state senator Scott Hammond. He told you that he viewed vouchers as the rotary telephones of the school choice world, and that ESAs are the smartphones of that world.

Vouchers just let parents choose a different school, but ESAs offer the equivalent of apps on your smartphone. You can use ESA funds for tuition at a private school, to pay for online courses, pay for tutors, pay for a Sylvan Learning type program, and/or pay for other approved educational options. A student is free to spend part-time at their local public school, and the rest of the time making other educational choices with the proportional share of their ESA funding.

In 2008, Cascade Policy Institute sponsored a School Choice Video Contest in which we asked parents and students to tell us what school choice meant to them. I want to show you one of my favorite entries. It’s from a 15-year-old homeschooled student in Southern Oregon.

[Shoes video]

If the Shoe Fits, Wear It! This legislature is about to allocate at least $8.2 billion taxpayer dollars to an education budget that may, in effect, fund shoes that aren’t a good fit for many of our children. ESAs would help some of those families find better-fitting shoes for their kids.

In addition to funding concerns, some critics of ESAs argue that they violate the principle of church/state separation. In Oregon, they might think that SB 437 violates Article 1, section 5 in our state constitution, which basically prevents the state from spending money for the benefit of any religious institution.

But it won’t! The public interest law firm Institute for Justice has studied the bill and concluded that it doesn’t violate either the Oregon or the U.S. Constitution. You have their complete legal analysis on OLIS.

Briefly, at the federal level, the 2002 Zelman Case before the Supreme Court found that as long as it’s the parents, not the state, deciding where a school choice program’s funds go, it doesn’t matter if the parents choose religious schools because it’s the parents, not the state, making those choices.

At least two state supreme courts, in Arizona and Nevada, have found the same thing with regard to ESAs and those state constitutional provisions, which are similar to Oregon’s so-called Blaine Amendment.

Now, let me give you a feel for how much more flexibility ESAs offer over the old voucher plans, and why they’ve sprung up so recently.

It wasn’t too long ago that if our parents or grandparents wanted to make a phone call they would pick up the receiver and ask a phone company operator to place their calls. Later, how glorious it was that we could use our rotary phones to spin out our own calls, even long-distance ones if we could afford the high per-minute costs. Then came digital phones, and finally cell phones became affordable to the masses. But even the early cell phones had limited uses.

You may not remember, but none of us had any cell phone apps before 2008, because there weren’t any. None. Imagine: All you could do on your cell phones before 2008 was make phone calls, maybe text, and maybe connect to the World Wide Web on a slow internet connection.

Just nine years later, over 2 billion people worldwide use apps on their smartphones. You may have dozens of apps on your phone today, and even if you only use a handful of them regularly, that’s a world away from what it was like before 2008. Lots of things are a world away from what they were like before 2008 — except for public education.

Consider the children in our schools today. Many of them have never known a world without smartphones and their apps. Rotary telephones, even landlines, are likely just historical oddities to them. Much of their world is new, except the way we adults try to educate them by sitting them down in rows, in a classroom with kids who are the same age, all in front of one teacher lecturing about some subject they may or may not find interesting and relevant to their lives.

Yet, many teachers see kids’ smartphones as a problem, right? They’re watching their screens instead of sitting politely in rows listening to the math lesson at 10, or the history lesson at 2.

We say that we want our kids to learn how to take advantage of technology, take STEM courses, and be prepared for the new careers awaiting them. So why do we see their use of that technology every day as a problem! They’re not paying attention to the teacher! They’re bored with school. The Shoes we make them wear aren’t good fits for many of them.

We know that they’ll likely find value in many of these subjects later in life, but if they can’t learn those lessons in ways that are relevant to them now, they may never learn them at all; or they may learn them too late to avoid painful life experiences between now and then.

In 2007, the House Subcommittee on Education Innovation, chaired by Representative Betty Komp, heard compelling testimony about some of those kids during a hearing on an earlier school choice bill, HB 2010. It was given by Black Portlander Jomo Greenidge, who describes himself as an educator and technologist.

Jomo can’t be here to talk with you today, but he hopes you’ll watch his earlier testimony and think about how Education Savings Accounts could help kids like these today.

[Jomo Greenidge video testimony]

Since Jomo gave that testimony in 2007, smartphone apps emerged, followed by Education Savings Accounts, which act much like smartphones of the school choice world. Many students in our schools today, and all the kids entering our schools tomorrow, will grow up in a world with modern communication and app technology.

It’s time we recognize that much of the money we tax and spend on their educations might not be meeting their educational needs. It’s time that we consider the Education Savings Account approach to let their families have some control over how that money is spent so it better meets their needs.

Other states have debated, and some are adopting, ESA programs this year. The pressure to pass more such bills will only grow.

We know that SB 437 won’t pass this year. While we’re thankful for this Informational Hearing, many Oregon families want more. Many Oregon families can’t wait for years to get their kids into better fitting Educational Shoes.

We can debate the details, but please take this issue seriously and help these families by passing an ESA bill soon, hopefully in the 2018 session.

Thank you.

* A 2009 scientific survey showed us that 87 percent of Oregon families with school-aged children want the ability to choose other than their local public school. And the results were similar for Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. So why do some 90 percent of them still send their kids to their local public school? You know why. It’s because they can’t afford to pay federal, state, and local taxes to fund that local school and pay for private school tuition at the same time. ESAs will give them the financial ability to make some other choices if they want to.

And, if 20 percent of Portland public school teachers send their kids to private schools, why would we think that 20 percent of their neighbors might not want to do the same, if they could afford it?

Based on data from the 2000 US Census, a report was published looking at where public school teachers sent their own kids to school in the nation’s 50 largest cities. It found that public school teachers send their own kids to private schools at much higher rates than their neighbors.

In Portland, 12.7 percent of parents sent their kids to private schools, but 20 percent of public school teachers who lived in Portland sent their kids to private schools. Doing some basic grade school math shows that teachers in the largest cities were 23 percent more likely to send their children to private schools, but in Portland they were 57 percent more likely to do so.

So, will SB 437 bill drain funds from public schools, or will it leave them harmless while allowing many students to make different choices? The answers depend on several assumptions which have now been evaluated by Eric Fruits, Ph.D. in a new review and evaluation of a universal ESA program for Oregon. The amount of the ESA deposits is the biggest driver of fiscal impacts.

As introduced, SB 437 would provide participating students with disabilities and in low-income households $8,781 per year (current state funding) in their ESAs. All other participating students would receive $7,903 (90% of current state funding). As Introduced, based on the assumptions below, the Fiscal Impact on the state and local school districts could be in the range of $200 million annually based on the following assumptions:

■ 90 percent of 61,000 students currently enrolled in non-public education would participate in the program.

■ Seven percent of 563,000 students currently enrolled in public schools would participate.

Based on these assumptions, the program has a fiscal “break even” for state and local school districts combined at an ESA annual amount of $6,000 for each participating student with disabilities and/or in a low-income household and $4,500 for all other students.

These are the dollar amounts proposed in the -1 Amendment to the bill. If fiscal impact were the only measure by which to evaluate this ESA program, the analysis shows that the program is “optimized” at an amount of $3,000 for each participating student with disabilities and/or in a low-income household and $2,250 for all other students. Once fully implemented, the program would save state and local governments $53 million a year.

Of course, fiscal impact is not and should not be the primary measure of this, or any well-designed school choice program. But, it is a political reality that such a program should not impose a fiscal burden on the state at a time that all budgets are under pressure.

The primary measure of this ESA program should be that it offers Oregon families as much choice as possible in how their children take advantage of educational opportunities funded by the state. The full report is here: Education Savings Accounts: Review and Evaluation of a Universal ESA in Oregon

Testimony on SB 847 Regarding Management of Common School Trust Lands

Testimony of John A. Charles, Jr.

President and CEO, Cascade Policy Institute 

Regarding SB 847

June 5, 2017

My name is John Charles and I have been closely following the management of Common School Trust Lands since 1996.

Sadly, the Trust Lands have been steadily losing value as an endowment asset during that entire period. For example, the Elliott State Forest was estimated to be worth over $800 million in 1995; it is currently a liability for the Common School Trust Fund.

The 620,000 acres of rangelands had net operating income of -$1.2 million in 2016.

SB 847 offers a pathway for the disposal of underperforming lands, but it’s difficult to see how a proposed transfer to other public bodies would be compliant with the fiduciary duty that Land Board members have to CSF beneficiaries.

Funds that the legislature might appropriate to “buy out” Trust Lands have to be paid by taxpayers. A large subset of that group will include beneficiaries of the CSF, including public school parents, school board members, public school teachers, and other school employees. Taxing them with debt service on bonds, as is now being proposed by the Governor for the Elliott, would be taking money away from them.

The Trust Land portfolio includes 1,540,000 acres of lands, as displayed in the attached summary from the most recent DSL status report. The estimated return on asset value for 2016 was 0.4%, which is an inflated number due the unknown market value of 767,100 acres of “Mineral and Energy Resource” lands and 13,200 acres of “Special Stewardship Lands.” They have minimal value to the CSF as an endowment asset, and that will not change.

The only way to carry out the fiduciary duty to CSF beneficiaries is to inject new, private capital into the picture. The state should sell the remaining Trust Lands – which could be worth more than $700 million — and invest the net proceeds in the Common School Fund, where annual total returns of 5%-8% could be expected for centuries to come.

[Click Download the PDF to view exhibits]

The Case of the Missing Transit Money

By John A. Charles, Jr.

Last week the TriMet Board adopted a budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins on July 1.

As usual, the budget shows no correlation between the levels of subsidies given to TriMet and the amount of service provided to customers.

For example, in 2008, TriMet had a total of $397 million to pay for operations of bus and rail service. In 2018, the agency predicts it will have $600 million, a 51% increase. Yet bus service—which carries two-thirds of all passengers—has barely improved.

In 2008 the “revenue-miles” of bus service (those miles where buses were in operation) totaled 22,574,030. If service increases in 2018 as planned, the total is likely to be 22,597,927—only a 0.1% increase.

Where did all the money go?

TriMet claims that increased light rail service made up the difference, but between 2008 and 2016 the revenue-miles of MAX only went up 14%. No service increase in 2018 will make up the difference between 14% and 51%.

Moreover, ridership is not growing along with the increased funding. In fact it is shrinking. During 2008 the total number of “originating rides” (which excludes transfers) was 77.6 million. Ridership peaked in 2012 at 80 million, and then dropped to 77.2 million in 2016.

TriMet is also losing market share, especially at peak hours. According to the Portland city auditor, in 2008 an estimated 15% of all Portland commuters used TriMet. By 2016, that had dropped to just 10%.

The steady rise in TriMet’s revenue is almost entirely due to tax subsidies, not passenger fares. In fact, next year passenger fares will only account for 10% of TriMet’s all-funds budget—likely the lowest level of passenger support in TriMet history.

Nonetheless, the Oregon legislature is considering a bill that would authorize a new, statewide employer tax that would generate even more subsidies for transit. The Portland experience shows that this is a bad idea. The more we subsidize monopoly transit, the more the employees divert funds for their own use.

Last year TriMet spent $1.23 on employee benefits for every $1.00 expended in wages. That largely explains why service levels have been stagnant.

In 1969 the Portland City Council put Rose City Transit out of business because Councilors believed that a government-run monopoly would be much more efficient than a private-for-profit company. The TriMet experience has shown that the City Council was wrong.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.


Oregon Legislature Should Give Kids a “Ticket to the Future” Today

By Kathryn Hickok and Steve Buckstein

Derrell Bradford has spent his adult life passionately advocating for education reform through parental choice. Bradford grew up in poverty in southwest Baltimore and received a scholarship that allowed him to attend a private high school, preparing him for college and a successful career. Better than anyone, he knows the power of educational choice to unleash a child’s potential.

“A scholarship is not a five-year plan or a Power Point…,” Bradford explained recently. “It’s a ticket to the future, granted today, for a child trying to shape his or her own destiny in the here and now….”

Choices in education are widespread in America, unless you are poor. Affluent families can move to different neighborhoods, send their children to private schools, and supplement schooling with enrichment opportunities. Lower- and middle-income families, however, are too often trapped with one option: a school in need of improvement assigned to them based on their ZIP Codes. Families deserve better.

Six years ago, Arizona became the first state to pass an Education Savings Account (ESA) law for some K-12 students. In April, lawmakers there passed a new ESA bill which expands the program eligibility to eventually include all Arizona children. Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee also have ESA programs limited to certain students, such as those with special needs. Nevada also passed a near-universal ESA bill, but it is yet to be funded.

An Education Savings Account is analogous to a debit card for qualifying education expenses. It gives parents who want to opt out of a public school that is not meeting their child’s needs a portion of the per-student state funding to spend on their child’s education in other ways.

Now, Oregon has a chance to put parents in the educational “driver’s seat” with Senate Bill 437, known as the “Educational Opportunity Act: The Power of Choice.” This bill would allow parents to spend a portion of the per-student state funding for their child on the schools or education services that are best for them as individuals. Options could include private or home schools, tutors, online courses, and therapy. Funds not used by the student in a given year could be rolled over for future years, even into college.

Critics might ask if this bill would drain funds from public schools, or would it leave them harmless while allowing many students to make different choices? The answers depend on several assumptions which have been evaluated in a new review of a universal Oregon ESA program.

The amount of the ESA deposits is the biggest driver of fiscal impacts. Based on the assumptions in the study, the program would have a fiscal “break even” for state and local school districts combined at an annual ESA amount of $6,000 for each participating student with disabilities and/or in a low-income household and $4,500 for all other students. These are the dollar amounts proposed in an Amendment to the bill and represent a reduction from the current state allocation which averages $8,781 for all students.

Of course, fiscal impact is not and should not be the primary measure of this or any well-designed school choice program. But it is a political reality that such a program should not impose a fiscal burden on the state at a time when all budgets are under pressure. SB 437 would offer Oregon families as much choice as possible in how their children take advantage of educational opportunities funded by the state, while not harming public schools.

The Senate Education Committee will hold an informational hearing on SB 437 on Tuesday, June 13, at 3 pm at the Oregon State Capitol. You can make a statement in favor of school choice by attending the hearing and/or submitting written testimony on the bill.

Children have different needs and learn in different ways. The landscape of educational options available to meet those needs is more diverse today than ever. Education Savings Accounts for Oregon parents are a life-changing education solution whose time has come. Families have had enough five-year-plans and Power Points, as Derrell Bradford put it. To give Oregon kids a ticket to the future—today—the Legislature should enact Senate Bill 437.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. Steve Buckstein is Cascade’s Senior Policy Analyst and Founder. A version of this article originally appeared in The Portland Tribune on May 25, 2017.

Who says Oregon spends $13,230 per public school student? The National Education Association, that’s who!

By Steve Buckstein

Ever since Oregon’s property tax limitation Measure 5 shifted the bulk of education funding from local sources to the state general fund in 1990, public education advocates have claimed that our schools are severely underfunded, spending less than most other states. They want the legislature to raise taxes now to rectify this supposed crisis.

Ask a knowledgeable Oregonian how much money is spent per student in our public schools and they might say the number is about $8,781, which is what the state currently gives school districts per student.

But, ask the nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, and you’ll get a much different answer. According to the NEA’s just-released Rankings & Estimates report for 2016 and 2017, when you count local, state, and federal funding, current expenditures per Oregon student in Average Daily Attendance are estimated to be $13,230. That puts us five percent above the national average of $12,572. Oregon spends more than 33 other states.*

Add in spending for capital outlays and interest payments, and that $13,230 number goes up to total expenditures per student of $14,911.**

Even at the lower number, public schools spend over $396,000 a year for each 30-student classroom. Subtract the average teacher salary plus benefits of some $85,000, and Oregonians should ask where the additional $300,000-plus is going before even thinking about raising taxes on anyone.

* There are several ways to calculate current expenditures per student. The NEA computes two of those ways in this report. Definitions are given in the report Glossary. Oregon’s 2017 Average Daily Attendance (ADA) of pupils “under the guidance and direction of teachers” is estimated in Table I-3 to be 531,434. Oregon’s 2017 Fall Enrollment of pupils registered in the fall of the 2017 school year is estimated in Table I-6 to be 578,176. Because there are more pupils registered in school districts than actually in class on an average day, current expenditures per ADA of $13,230 (Table J-9) is higher than current expenditures per Fall Enrollment, which is $12,161 (Table J-10). Oregon spends more than 33 other states under both these methods.

** Under the two ways of calculating expenditures per student explained above, the author’s calculation of estimated 2017 total expenditures based on Average Daily Attendance of $14,911 is higher than that based on estimated Fall Enrollment, which is $13,705.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Kicker Envy 2017

By Steve Buckstein

Individual Oregon income taxpayers may receive kicker refunds when they file their 2017 tax returns based on a percentage of the state income tax they paid in 2016. Based on the May revenue forecast, $408 million could be coming back to taxpayers, with the average refund being $210. A final determination of whether the kicker will “kick” and how big it will be should be announced on August 23.

But even before those potential refunds reduce our 2017 tax liability, some are questioning whose money it is, and others seem envious that the “rich” will get much bigger refunds than the rest of us. So, whether the kicker law is good or bad public policy, let’s think a little about who this money really belongs to. Is it a rebate for overpaying your taxes, or is it somehow “our” money that is better left in government coffers?

How the kicker works 

First, the mechanics of the kicker law: Oregon state government is highly dependent on the personal income tax for its General Fund budget. With a fairly flat tax structure, most wage earners are in the nine percent income tax bracket, while the highest income earners are in the top 9.9 percent bracket. Therefore, state revenue can be quite volatile, going up and down as the economy cycles between boom and bust.

The legislature first passed the kicker law in 1979, and voters added it to the state constitution in 2000. It mandates that state economists estimate what income tax revenue will be over the following two-year budget period. The legislature then must balance the budget by not allocating more money than the estimate. If the estimate is low by two percent or more, then the entire surplus must be returned to taxpayers. The kicker law actually is composed of two parts, dealing with personal income taxes and corporate income taxes differently. In 2012 voters decided that any corporate kickers would be returned to the state general fund to provide additional funding for K-12 public schools.

Some people argue that the way the kicker “kicks” makes little sense. They correctly note that projecting state revenue two years out to within a two percent margin is terribly difficult, and has been done only rarely. Others defend the kicker law as an important brake on runaway government spending, especially since voters have rejected other tax and expenditure limitations at the polls.

Whose money is it? 

Whether the kicker law is good or bad public policy doesn’t change the answer to a more fundamental question: Whose money is it?

Some argue that the kicker money really belongs to the state. After all, they say, it’s in the state’s coffers because individuals paid what the tax law said they owed on their tax returns. As long as any Oregonian has a “need” for that money—be they school children, the elderly, the disabled, etc.—then the money should go to them instead of back to the individuals who earned it.

How much is that latte? 

Of course, this is the Marxist “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” justification. Taken further, not only would the kicker money remain with the state, but the state could retroactively come after even more of your previous income if, in the wisdom of government officials, anyone still “needed” those funds.

One way to look at this argument is to think about walking into a coffee shop today and ordering a $3 latte. The price is posted on the wall, but the person behind the counter asks you a question before accepting your order. “Did you get a raise last year?” “Yes,” you tell her proudly, “I was very productive last year and my boss gave me a 10 percent raise.” “That’s great,” she replies. “The $3 latte will cost you $3.30.” “Why?” you wonder. “Because your ability allows me to better meet my needs.”

You wouldn’t accept this argument from your barista, and you shouldn’t accept it from your government.

Next, some argue that the kicker “lavishes a windfall on those who don’t need it.” They point to the top one percent of taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes over about $386,000 who would receive more than $4,500 each, while the average taxpayer would only get back $210. What is often unstated in this argument is that those “lucky” top taxpayers paid way more income tax than the rest of us, and they will get back exactly the same percentage of their tax payments as everyone else does.

Envy is a powerful emotion, but it should not trump reason. If we can find a better way to restrain runaway government spending, we should do so. But until that day arrives, the kicker law is one defense against those who argue that some of the money you earned belongs to someone else just because they “need” it.

Oregon Income Tax Calculator:

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. An earlier version of this Cascade Commentary was published in November 2007.


Overtaxed and Underbuilt

By John A. Charles, Jr.

An Oregon Legislative committee is proposing a massive series of tax increases to pay for various transportation projects.

The proposal calls for higher taxes on vehicle registration, increased gas taxes, a new sales tax on motor vehicle purchases, a statewide employee tax to subsidize transit, and a new bicycle sales tax.

While there are many bad ideas on this list, perhaps the most offensive is the sales tax on vehicle purchases. It is being crafted so that most of the money would be diverted from highway maintenance into something called the “congestion relief and carbon reduction fund.”

Anything that includes “carbon reduction” in the title is guaranteed to be a boondoggle.

Before this proposal goes any further, legislators should consider a bill simply focusing on improving the road system. We all benefit from better roads.

In addition, they should try to charge people based on actual road use, not the mere ownership of vehicles. The gas tax is a good surrogate for this, so it would make sense to increase the gas tax rate while lowering vehicle registration fees. This would be fair to motorists, while still raising the funds needed for road improvements.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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