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The Kicker Debate Continues

By Steve Buckstein

Because of Oregon’s recent and projected strong economy, a personal “kicker” tax refund of $686 million is projected to go out in the first half of 2020. This would be the second-largest kicker amount in the state’s history. If you pay personal income taxes to the state of Oregon, you will get some of this money as a credit on your future tax liabilities. This will again raise the question: Is the kicker law good or bad public policy?

Some people will be envious that the “rich” will get much bigger refunds than the rest of us and they don’t really “need” the money. While the average kicker is projected to be $336, they point to those in the highest adjusted gross income bracket of $401,200 and above who can expect to receive $6,787. 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.

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.

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.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. You can find more Cascade Commentaries on Oregon’s kicker law here.

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18-17-The_Kicker_Debate_ContinuesPDF

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Whose Money Is Your Oregon Kicker Refund?

By Steve Buckstein and Kathryn Hickok

State economists have confirmed that individual Oregon income taxpayers will receive kicker refunds next year. Based on the May revenue forecast, more than $463 million will be returned to taxpayers as a credit on their 2018 tax bills, with the average refund being $227.

But with the news that the coming refunds will reduce our tax liabilities, some are criticizing the way the kicker law works, while others argue the money really belongs to the state, not the taxpayers. They argue that as long as any group of Oregonians—or any state government budget item—has a “need” for that money, then the money should go to them instead of back to the individuals who earned 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? Is the kicker a rebate for overpaying your taxes or is it somehow the State of Oregon’s money, better left in government coffers? If we can find a better way to restrain runaway government spending, we should do so. But until that day arrives, Oregon’s 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.


Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade.

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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: https://smartasset.com/taxes/oregon-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.

 

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Don’t Steal the Kicker

Would you like to pay $284 less in Oregon personal income tax next year? That’s what the average taxpayer may save if Oregon’s constitutional kicker law is allowed to take effect.

The kicker law requires that if actual state revenue for a biennium exceeds the official economic forecast by two percent or more, the entire surplus is returned to those taxpayers who earned it. It now appears that the state will collect $473 million more than projected and thus have to give all that money back to taxpayers, in the form of a 6.7% credit on their tax bill.

Well, not if State Representative Tobias Read of Beaverton has anything to say about it. He’s introduced House Bill 3555 that would suspend the kicker and send all that money to schools and the state’s rainy day fund. The bill requires a two-thirds super majority vote in both houses of the legislature, something that hopefully will be very hard to do.

Read says that his bill “gives us an opportunity to invest in the things that reflect our values as Oregonians….” Apparently, “our values” don’t include things like carrying out the intent of the voters when they put the kicker in the Oregon Constitution. “Our values” apparently also don’t include letting people keep as much of their own money as possible to spend on the things that they think will benefit their own families.

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After Raising Taxes, Oregonians Should Reject Moves to Gut the Kicker Law

Todd WynnCascade Commentary

Click here to read the full report in PDF format

Summary: Governor Kulongoski and others propose to transfer even more money from the private sector to government coffers through what is becoming known as “kicker reform.” As an appointed taxpayer advocate on the Governor’s Task Force on Comprehensive Revenue Restructuring, I have a different view of the kicker and its effect on budget stability.

The voters have spoken and agreed with legislative leaders that the “rich” and corporations should pay more taxes through Measures 66 and 67. Now, Governor Ted Kulongoski and others are turning their attention to transferring even more money from the private sector to government coffers through what is becoming known as “kicker reform.” As an appointed taxpayer advocate on the Governor’s Task Force on Comprehensive Revenue Restructuring, I have a different view of the kicker and its effect on budget stability.

The Task Force found, and I agree, that establishing more reliable state income forecasting and more prudent budgeting are worthy goals. I do not agree, however, that the state is the best repository for ending balances under a proposed new forecasting method. That money rightfully belongs to the individuals and corporations who earned it.

The Task Force Proposal basically requires the Governor to develop a point estimate for General Fund revenue in each biennium, and then determine a range of roughly six percent above and below that point estimate. This would be an improvement over the current point-estimate-only approach, which is almost always wrong.

The problem lies in the Proposal’s requirement that only revenue above the top of the forecast range be returned to taxpayers in the form of kicker checks. This will have the practical effect of eliminating most kicker refunds that Oregonians have come to expect when state revenue exceeds estimates by more than two percent.

The Proposal also requires that revenue above the point estimate, but below the top of the forecast range, be placed in a rainy day fund of up to ten percent of the General Fund. The intent is to grow a more substantial fund that can help the state deal with recessions like the one we are in right now.

I will tell the legislature that locking this entire Proposal into the Constitution will simply make it easier for the state to avoid exercising the kind of real fiscal discipline that Oregonians should expect. The effect would be to permanently transfer billions of dollars from the private to the public sector into the foreseeable future. I also will point out that, in my opinion, it will be relatively easy for opponents to derail the effort by telling voters that it is simply an attempt to “steal our kicker.”

How to build a rainy day fund without “stealing the kicker”

In fact, the Proposal is built on a fallacy. Its supporters assume that the kicker somehow has prevented the state from building a substantial rainy day fund, when in reality there has been no legal prohibition against lawmakers budgeting for less spending than the point estimate revenue forecasts would allow.

If, for example, the revenue estimate for a biennium is $15 billion, the legislature is free to budget spending of $14 billion, and budget one billion dollars toward the rainy day fund. They never do this, not because it’s legally prohibited, but because the political pressure to spend every dime is so strong.

Under the Task Force Proposal, however, if the point estimate is $15 billion and the top of the range is $16 billion, the legislature can budget and spend $15 billion and must save the additional billion dollars. The effect is to transfer one billion dollars from the private to the public sector and effectively to grow government faster than the people have allowed it to grow under the current kicker law.

My recommendation is to accept the part of the Proposal that improves state revenue forecasting, but reject the part that, over time, would transfer billions of dollars from the private to the public sector.

If legislators wish to grow a substantial rainy day fund, they can ask voters to change the Oregon Constitution to require that they can only budget and spend up to the low end of the forecast range, and save everything else up to the point estimate until the rainy day fund has reached some predetermined level. This would leave the kicker law intact, restrain the growth of government, and grow the rainy day fund all at the same time. It would be reform that many taxpayers could enthusiastically support.


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

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Legislators Table Attemptto Steal the Kicker

Steve BucksteinCascade CommentaryClick here to read the full report in PDF format

Summary: SJR 29 is based on a fallacy. Its supporters assume that the kicker somehow has prevented the state from building a substantial rainy day fund, when in reality there has been no prohibition against lawmakers budgeting for less spending than the point estimate forecasts would allow. (more…)

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Kicker Envy

Steve BucksteinCascade Commentary

Summary

Individual Oregon income taxpayers are set to receive a record $1.1 billion in so-called kicker refunds just before Christmas. Whether the kicker law is good or bad public policy, it is an important brake on runaway government spending. Perhaps more importantly, the money belongs to those who earned it, not those who “need” it. (more…)

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Economists DO NOT AGREE about elimination of the corporate kicker

Steve BucksteinThe legislative debate on whether to finance a rainy day fund by ending the corporate kicker, whether forever or just this year, is complex. Proponents of ending the kicker claim that economists of all stripes agree that the corporate kicker holds no economic benefit for the state.

Noted Oregon economist and Cascade Policy Institute academic advisor Randall Pozdena recently responded to one maker of that claim, Senator Ryan Deckert. Below, with his permission, is Dr. Pozdena’s email message:

—–Original Message—–
From: Randall Pozdena
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 12:37 PM
To: Senator Ryan Deckert
Subject: Economists DO NOT AGREE about elimination of the corporate kicker.

Dear Senator Deckert: (more…)

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Don’t Kick the Kicker – part II

Steve BucksteinQuickPoint!

Last November state economists estimated that Oregon’s tax revenues could exceed their projections by $300 million this biennium. Now that estimate has surged to over $1 billion, and the debate over the state’s “kicker law” has grown louder.

The kicker law states that whenever personal or corporate income tax collections are (more…)

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Don’t Kick the Kicker

Steve BucksteinQuickPoint!

Now that Oregon’s economy is finally showing signs of life, we are again hearing arguments against the so-called “kicker law.” The law states that whenever personal or corporate income tax collections are more than 2 percent higher than state economists project, the excesses are rebated to taxpayers.

Those who think government can (more…)

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Roughing the kicker

QuickPoint!

A move is afoot in the Oregon legislature to increase taxes by watering down or eliminating “the kicker.” We the people placed the kicker into the Oregon Constitution in 2000. When tax dollars taken from us exceed two percent of budgeted revenue, hardworking Oregonians get a bit of their money back to buy their kids shoes or pay for medicine.

The push to tinker with the kicker comes from a (more…)

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Fake Leadership

By John A. Charles, Jr.

Governor Kate Brown’s proposed two-year general fund budget for 2019-21 requests $23.6 billion. That is an increase of 12.4% over the current level, which was the largest budget in Oregon history when it was adopted 18 months ago.

So far, few legislative leaders have questioned why the Governor needs so much money. At the Oregon Business Plan summit, held on December 3, most of the talk was about adopting new taxes and repealing the popular “kicker” law that rebates surplus funds to Oregon taxpayers. That’s not a good omen.

Most parents teach their children at a young age that they can’t always ask for more; sometimes you have to make do with what you have. That lesson has been lost on Oregon’s political leaders. No matter how much money we send to Salem, it’s never enough.

Before legislators vote to approve even one more tax, they should ask where the money will go, and why is it needed? And more importantly, if the current record-setting budget is not enough, what will change in the next two years to avoid another huge increase in 2020?

Any governor can demand more money; addressing the root causes of our problems takes real leadership. Gov. Brown has yet to figure that out.

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

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12-5-18-Fake_LeadershipPDF

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Should Oregon Replace the Income Tax with a Sales Tax?

In 2007 Governor Ted Kulongoski appointed me to represent taxpayers on the legislatively created Comprehensive Revenue Restructuring Task Force. The Task Force reviewed and analyzed revenue and spending streams in the state, but did not recommend comprehensive reforms to the tax system.

At the first Task Force meeting in November 2007, Portland pollster Adam Davis presented his focus group work around tax reform. He told us that public negativity on government and politics was higher than he’d ever seen in his 30-year career.

One key finding stood out, and I believe this is an accurate paraphrase:

“Any sales tax is dead in this state―unless coupled with elimination of another tax. Reducing other tax rates won’t sell a sales tax.”

“Even when it was explained that reduced income and/or property tax rates could be locked into the Constitution, voters responded that ‘They’ll find a way to jack the rates back up.’”

Adam Davis recently told me that his firm later did more quantitative analysis which confirmed his focus group findings that Oregonians will not accept a third tax…period.

With that realization in mind, I proposed to the Task Force, and I propose now, that Oregonians should have a serious discussion about replacing our economically harmful income tax system with a less harmful sales tax system. Research finds states without an income tax have experienced higher economic and job growth than states with high income tax rates like Oregon. Last year, two economists who study this trend said:

“Every year for the past 40, the states without income taxes had faster output growth (measured on a decadal basis) than the states with the highest income taxes….

“Over the past decade, states without an income tax have seen 58% higher population growth than the national average, and more than double the growth of states with the highest income tax rates….

“The transfer of economic power and political influence from high-tax states toward low-tax, right-to-work ones is one of America’s most momentous demographic changes in decades. Liberal utopias are losing the race for capital.”*

While it seems clear that income taxes do harm our economy, sales taxes appear to do less damage, and therefore may be preferable when we cannot find voluntary ways to fund government services.

This month a state senate committee held two public hearings on bills that would impose a five percent retail sales tax while somewhat reducing income and property tax burdens. At the first hearing, Governor John Kitzhaber suggested that sales tax advocates (he among them) should first get a better sense of what voters think is wrong with the current system—and then get a “better handle on spending.”

One state senator suggested that a better handle on spending could be achieved by tying state spending to inflation and population growth, as a 2006 defeated initiative would have done. If it had passed, legislators would be sitting in Salem today with a significant budget surplus, instead of wondering how to wring more tax dollars out of a struggling economy. That may not be the kind of handle on spending the Governor had in mind, but it sure beats having no handle at all.

I testified at the second hearing, proposing that the bills (SJR 36 and SB 824) be amended so that they not only create a state sales tax, but that they prohibit income taxes in the Oregon Constitution (Article IV, section 32). If Oregon voters understand that it would be unconstitutional to tax their incomes, they might render a different verdict on a sales tax than they did when rejecting them nine times at the polls since 1933.

Eliminating the income tax completely is important for economic reasons, but also because, as focus groups and polls have shown, Oregonians simply don’t trust their elected officials to keep rates on other taxes down once a new sales tax is in place. I also believe they understand that states with so-called “three-legged tax stools” have budget problems, too, such as our neighbor to the south, California.

One of the perceived advantages of adding a sales tax to currently existing taxes appears to be that the mix of different taxes seems to reduce instability in the system. A number of people testified that budget stability is important to them, especially for local school budgets which are funded significantly from the state General Fund.

But at the hearings, I was the only person who questioned why the state budget should be more stable than our own business and family budgets. As a former and current member of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors wrote in 2007:

“It is not clear why government budgets should be more stable than private budgets. It is already the case, with the kicker and without any rainy day fund, that public employment in the state is 20% more stable than private employment.”**

If legislators are not careful, making state revenue more stable will make their constituents’ after-tax family budgets even less stable, and many of them will not appreciate that.

In conclusion, until we reduce the size and scope of state government, no third source of tax revenue will solve our state’s financial problems. It will simply mask them.

* “Laffer and Moore: A 50-State Tax Lesson for the President,” Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore, Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2012.

** Excerpt from an email to then-State Senator Ryan Deckert from economist Randall Pozdena, Ph.D., dated March 6, 2007.

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

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Cascade in the Capitol: Testimony on proposed Oregon sales tax

Testimony before the Senate Committee
on Finance and Revenue
regarding sales tax bills SJR 36 and SB 824
by Steve Buckstein

[This testimony was submitted for the April 15, 2013 hearing, but was held over for the April 17, 2013 hearing. My prepared April 17th testimony is posted at the end.]

Good afternoon, Chair Burdick, Vice-Chair George, and members of the Committee. My name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, which is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank based in Portland.

In 2007 I was appointed by Governor Kulongoski to represent taxpayers on the legislatively created Comprehensive Revenue Restructuring Task Force. The Task Force reviewed and analyzed revenue and spending streams in the state, but did not recommend comprehensive reforms to the tax system.

At the first Task Force meeting in November 2007, we heard from Portland pollster Adam Davis about his focus group work around tax reform. One key finding stood out, and I believe this is an accurate paraphrase:

“Any sales tax is dead in this state – unless coupled with elimination of another tax. Reducing other tax rates won’t sell a sales tax.”

“Even when it was explained that reduced income and/or property tax rates could be locked into the Constitution, voters responded that ‘They’ll find a way to jack the rates back up.’”

Mr. Davis recently told me that his firm did more quantitative analysis for two state senators which confirmed his focus group findings that Oregonians will not accept a third tax…period.

With that realization in mind, I proposed then, and I propose now, that we should have a serious discussion about replacing Oregon’s economically harmful income tax system with a less harmful sales tax system.

Research finds states without an income tax have experienced higher economic and job growth than states with high income tax rates like Oregon.

I want to be clear that I don’t like sales taxes very much either, but I’m convinced that they do less damage to the economy than do income taxes.

I suggest that SJR 36 and SB 824 be amended so that they not only create a state sales tax, but they prohibit income taxes in the Oregon Constitution (Article IV, section 32).

Once Oregon voters understand that it will be unconstitutional to tax their income, they may render a different verdict on a retail sales tax than they have nine times in the past.

If you worry that this proposal may not raise enough revenue, then you should shelve any talk of tax restructuring until the legislature and the Governor, or the people, have comprehensively restructured and reduced state spending.

I know that many of you don’t want to hear this, but simply adding a sales tax to our current income and property taxes never has been, and I believe never will be, acceptable to Oregon voters. They know that states with so-called three-legged tax stools have budget problems, too.

Until we reduce the size and scope of state government, no third source of tax revenue will solve our problems, it will simply mask them.

Thank you.
______________________________________________

April 17, 2013    Buckstein testimony on SJR 36 and SB 824

I want to highlight key points in my written testimony [above] that you already have, and respond to several issues raised here on Monday, April 15th.

First, I appreciated the Governor’s suggestion that sales tax advocates should first get a better sense of what voters think is wrong with the current system — and then get a better handle on spending.

Senator George suggested a spending limit like the one voters rejected in 2006, which would have tied state spending to inflation and population growth.  If that limit had passed, you’d be sitting here today with a significant budget surplus instead of wondering how to wring more tax dollars out of a struggling economy.

That may not be the kind of handle on spending the Governor has in mind, but it sure beats having no handle at all.

As to what voters think is wrong with the current tax system, you heard from the chair of Governor Kulongoski’s Comprehensive Revenue Restructuring Task Force.

Lane Shetterly told you that the Task Force discussed sales tax proposals, but chose not to recommend one based partly on polling data.

I was a member of that Task Force, appointed by the Governor to represent the taxpayers.

At the first Task Force meeting in November 2007, we heard from Portland pollster Adam Davis about his focus group work. He told us that public negativity on government and politics was higher than he’d ever seen in his 30 year career.

One key finding stood out, and I believe this is an accurate paraphrase:

“Any sales tax is dead in this state – unless coupled with Elimination of another tax. Reducing other tax rates won’t sell a sales tax.”

“Even when it was explained that reduced income and/or property tax rates could be locked into the Constitution, voters responded that ‘They’ll find a way to jack the rates back up.’”

These findings mirror a concern several people mentioned here on Monday — the lack of Trust in government. Voters simply won’t trust you to keep income and property taxes down once they give you a Sales Tax.

Adam Davis recently told me that his firm did more quantitative analysis later, which confirmed his focus group findings that Oregonians will not accept a third tax…period.

With that realization in mind, I proposed then, and I propose now, that we should have a serious discussion about replacing Oregon’s economically harmful income tax with a less harmful sales tax.

Research finds states without an income tax have experienced higher economic and job growth than states with high income tax rates like Oregon.

I want to be clear that I don’t like sales taxes very much either, but I’m convinced that they do less damage to the economy than do income taxes.

I suggest that SJR 36 and SB 824 be amended to PROHIBIT income taxes in the Oregon Constitution.

Once Oregon voters understand that it will be unconstitutional to tax their incomes, they may muster up enough trust to finally approve a retail sales tax.

There was quite a bit of discussion on Monday about devising a more stable source of revenue for state government. Paul ably showed you that a mix of different taxes could reduce instability in the system.

But there was no discussion about why the state budget should be more stable than our own business and family budgets. As a member of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors wrote then Senator Ryan Deckert in 2007:

It is not clear why government budgets should be more stable than private budgets.  It is already the case, with the kicker and without any rainy day fund, that public employment in the state is 20% more stable than private employment.”

If you’re not careful, I fear that making state revenue more stable will make your constituent’s after-tax family budgets even less stable, and I doubt many of them will appreciate that.

Finally, the last person to testify on Monday, representing the League of Women Voters, told you that she wanted to see a so-called three legged tax stool in Oregon. But as you know, states with three legged tax stools have budget problems too. Just look south to California to see why the three legged stool is no panacea.

Until we reduce the size and scope of state government, no third source of tax revenue will solve our problems, it will simply mask them.

Thank you.

 

 

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Three Oregon Tax Measures: What They Would Do

With less than a week to go in this election cycle, Oregonians are faced with nine statewide ballot measures.

 

Here are my thoughts on the three that are primarily tax measures.

 

Measure 79 bans future state or local real estate transfer taxes. Only Washington County imposes such a tax now, as anyone who has sold a home there knows. The realtors who put Measure 79 on the ballot don’t want to see such taxes spread to the rest of the state. Government always looks for ways to raise revenue, but taxing home sales isn’t a good idea now or later. I voted Yes.

 

Measure 84 phases out Oregon’s estate tax and forbids taxes on property transfers between family members. Working all your life to build up an estate valued over the $1 million estate tax exemption should not give government the right to tax what you or your family have paid taxes on all your lives. I voted Yes.

 

Measure 85 takes any future corporate kicker money from the companies that earned it and places it in the state General Fund. Nothing in the measure assures that the money will benefit public education as the public employee unions that put it on the ballot claim. Special interests will be in Salem lobbying for that money just as they do now. Measure 85 simply takes money from the private sector and grows government. I voted No.

 

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

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Steve Buckstein debates the merits of Measure 85

Steve Buckstein spoke to the Washington County Public Affairs Forum in September where he spoke out in opposition to Measure 85, a ballot initiative tasked with taking away Oregon’s corporate kicker.

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“Kicking” Education Funding Around―Why Measure 85 may not do what you think

Please join us for Cascade’s monthly Policy Picnic. Senior Policy Analyst Steve Buckstein will lead a discussion of the proposal to reform Oregon’s corporate kicker, Measure 85.

Measure 85 on the November ballot purports to redirect any future corporate kicker funds to public education. Steve will discuss why that won’t necessarily happen, and what other agendas the public employee unions that put it on the ballot may have.

Admission is free. Please bring your own lunch. Coffee and cookies will be served. Space is limited to ten guests on a first come, first served basis, so sign up early. To RSVP, email Patrick Schmitt at patrick@cascadepolicy.org or call 503-242-0900.

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“Kicking” Education Funding Around―Why Measure 85 may not do what you think

This November, Oregon voters will be asked to direct a highly uncertain, highly volatile, and relatively small amount of income tax money into the state’s General Fund, supposedly to help school children.

If Measure 85 would surely benefit kids, we might have a serious debate about it. But it won’t.

Measure 85 was placed on the ballot by several public employee unions. It would take any future corporate kicker money from businesses that paid those taxes and redirect it into the state’s General Fund to “…provide additional funding for public education, kindergarten through twelfth grade.”

As most taxpayers know, the “kicker law” requires state economists to estimate how much income tax revenue will be generated over each two-year budget period. If actual revenue exceeds the estimate by two percent or more, the entire surplus is returned to those taxpayers who earned it.

The kicker law covers both personal and corporate income taxes. The vast majority of income tax money comes from individuals. Corporate income tax receipts are often highly volatile and recently amounted to only seven percent of General Fund revenue.

Some argue that the way the kicker “kicks” makes little sense, because it is terribly difficult to estimate state revenue two years out. Others defend the law as an important brake on runaway government spending, especially since Oregon has no other strong tax or expenditure limitations.

Whether the kicker is good or bad policy, Measure 85 does not guarantee any benefit to public education, even though it implies that it will. This is because the General Fund can be allocated to various government programs at the full discretion of the legislature. So-called “Other Funds” are dedicated for specific purposes, as are federal funds the state receives. The General Fund is called that for a reason—it’s the one pot of money legislators can allocate at their discretion.

When asked whether Measure 85 guarantees more funding for public schools, the legislature’s Chief Deputy Legislative Counsel said in writing, “I think the answer to your question is no….[Measure 85] does not require the Legislative Assembly to appropriate a total amount of moneys from the General Fund to K-12 public education that is greater than what it might appropriate under current law.”

Of course, if Measure 85 passes, legislators will spend any future corporate kicker money on public education as it requires, but they then can turn right around and spend less than they otherwise might have on public education from the rest of the General Fund. Voters will have no way of knowing whether Measure 85 will result in more spending on public education or not.

Why? Because any new money in the General Fund will attract “special interests” arguing that they need some or all of that money for their own programs. And, those “special interests” may be some of the same public employee unions that put Measure 85 on the ballot in the first place. In particular, they might be unions whose members work in agencies not involved with public education.

This is the way the legislative process works now, and it will work virtually the same way if Measure 85 passes.

The fact that Measure 85 won’t ensure any additional spending on public education should be reason enough for voters to reject it. They also should oppose it because there are better ways to reform the kicker law. Reform could place all corporate and personal kicker money into a rainy day fund. Or, the entire kicker law could be replaced with a strong state spending limitation tied to the growth of population and inflation.

Whichever reform voters prefer, Measure 85 is arguably the worst way to reform the kicker. It will take money from the private sector and let state government grow without any assurance that Oregon’s school kids benefit at all. It should be rejected in November.

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Steve’s Testimony before the Senate Committee on Finance and Revenue (UPDATED)

Chair Burdick and members of the Committee, my name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit public policy research organization based in Portland. Our mission is to promote policies that enhance individual liberty, personal responsibility and economic opportunity in Oregon.

As a member of Governor Kulongoski’s Task Force on Comprehensive Revenue Restructuring, I must express reservations about Senate Joint Resolution 26 which seeks to revise the Oregon Constitution in a number of significant ways.

(more…)

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Education Tax Credits Can Save Oregon Money

Christina Martin
Cascade Commentary
Click here to read the full report in PDF format

Summary: House Bill 2754 would create two education tax credits, one for families’ own out-of-pocket education expenses and another for donations to scholarship-granting organizations for low-income or disabled students. According to a fiscal analysis by Dr. Eric Fruits, HB 2754’s tax credits have potential to save money for the state of Oregon. (more…)

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Testimony on SJR 29

Steve Buckstein

Reject transferring billions of dollars from
the private to the public sector
March 12, 2009

Chair Burdick and members of the Committee, my name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit public policy research organization based in Portland. Our mission is to promote policies that enhance individual liberty, personal responsibility and economic opportunity in Oregon. (more…)

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Reject transferring billions of dollars from the private to the public sector:What’s wrong with SJR 29

March 3, 2009

As a member of the Task Force on Comprehensive Revenue Restructuring representing taxpayers, I must express reservations about Senate Joint Resolution 29 which seeks to amend the Oregon Constitution to, among other things, direct income tax kicker money into the Rainy Day Fund.

I agree with the Task Force consensus that establishing more reliable forecasting and more prudent budgeting is a worthy goal. I do not agree, however, that the state is the best repository for ending balances under the new forecasting method. That money rightfully belongs to the individuals and corporations who earned it. (more…)

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Get a raise? Pay more for your latte

Steve BucksteinQuickPoint!

Oregon taxpayers soon will receive checks in the mail representing 18.6 percent of their 2006 personal income tax payments. This kicker refund results from the Oregon law that says if state economists underestimate revenue by two percent or more, the excess must be returned to taxpayers.

Some argue that the kicker money should stay with the state. Why? (more…)

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What the Legislature Hath Wrought

Matt WingardCascade Commentary

Summary

The 2007 Oregon Legislative Session ended June 28. With very few exceptions, nothing the legislature did made Oregonians more free. Most of the legislation advanced government intervention into our lives, our economy and our interactions with each other. (more…)

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The business of a rainy day fund

Steve BucksteinQuickPoint!

Virtually everyone agrees that the state of Oregon needs a rainy day fund; they just disagree on how to finance it. Last year voters rejected a rainy day fund coupled with a state spending limit. Now, even though state general fund revenue is expected to be 20 percent higher than last biennium, legislative leaders want corporations to give up this year’s kicker refund to build the fund.

Major business groups endorsed that idea, but the increase in the corporate minimum tax that comes along with it is causing (more…)

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Oregon Legislative Update

Matt WingardCascade Commentary

Summary

The 2007 Oregon State Legislature is in full swing and it’s getting ugly fast for those of us who believe in individual liberty, economic opportunity and personal responsibility. Stay tuned for more updates from Cascade Policy Institute. (more…)

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Does Oregon Deserve a D in Money Management?

Steve BucksteinQuickPoint!

A new national report card funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts finds that Oregon state government doesn’t manage its money very well. Only Oregon and California earned D’s. Oregon may well deserve its D, but not for the reasons this report gives.

The authors of Grading the States 2005 apparently value (more…)

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