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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 political desire to create a rainy day fund. Some proposals link kicker reform to a limit on state spending, which could be good. However, to just eliminate the kicker is a poor idea: Legislators would have little reason to ever question the validity of, let alone cut, a government program. They could always play Santa Claus to every special interest group. To just eliminate the kicker would help keep government spending at the same high level in bad times as in good.

Some argue, government needs a rainy day fund just like businesses or families. But there’s a major difference between you and I putting money aside: it’s our money. Further, we set our own priorities. Politicians take our money, and dictate our priorities.

Some argue, we’ll build in safeguards to protect the fund. The federal government has a Social Security trust fund full of IOUs because Congress has repeatedly taken from it to finance other government operations. Oregon politicians are crafty like their federal kin. Regardless of the safeguards, an Oregon state rainy day fund won’t be safe.

Kicker reforms that reduce government spending and power are worthy of consideration. However, Oregon legislators should be penalized for roughing the kicker if the reform push and shove leads to higher taxes and bigger government.

Kurt T. Weber is vice president of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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