Check your wallets

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

During the 2003 session of the Oregon legislature, TriMet submitted legislation authorizing the agency to increase its regional payroll tax rate by 17 percent. The payroll tax, which is levied on all businesses and self-employed individuals within TriMet’s service territory, is the primary revenue source for the agency and raises more than $150 million annually.

TriMet’s legislation passed the Senate but was bottled up in the House by Speaker Karen Minnis. As the session was winding down, it appeared that taxpayers would be protected. But in the final 72 hours, TriMet supporters took a House-passed bill (HB 3183) on a different subject, amended it in the Senate to include the payroll tax increase, and got it passed by the full body. The governor signed it and the TriMet board will be allowed to increase its tax rate beginning in January 2004.

Very few legislators ever asked TriMet if the agency could do more with less. Numerous cost-saving measures could have been implemented to avoid a tax increase, such as limits on TriMet’s exorbitant labor costs or an end to the ridiculous “fareless” square policy. Instead, they just raised the tax rate.

This is how the legislature works. While citizens look one way, lobbyists push through amendments the other way. Inevitably, government grows and freedom is lost.

John A. Charles, Jr. is president and CEO at 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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