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"Reforming" Oregon to Death 

Oregon conservatives who oppose the tax increases under Measures 66 and 67 say that what this state really needs is a fundamental reform of its tax system. No argument here – but what reforms would Oregon conservatives support?

Well, certainly not doing away with Oregon’s archaic and ridiculous “kicker” law, which prevents the state from accumulating sufficient reserves to see it through tough times like the present Great Recession.

The Oregon Catalyst blog takes a shot this week at a bill to be introduced in the coming special legislative session that would (in the blogger’s words) “raid the kicker tax refund.” The measure, SJR 45, would establish a reserve fund by reducing – but not eliminating – the kicker; some surplus revenue would be refunded to taxpayers.

But any attempt to touch the sacred kicker starts conservatives howling and snarling, and this one is no exception.

“These clowns are back with this one again?” writes “Rupert in Springfield.” “Look, we are about to increase taxes with 66 and 67 mostly to pay for government luxuries. They can’t cut back in the middle of the worst recession in most people’s lives. How foolish does one have to be to think that any rainy day fund would not be spent immediately?”

Okay, how about a sales tax? Nope, the right-wingers don’t like that idea either.

“In a recent East Oregonian story, State Representative Bob Jenson [R-Pendleton] has suggested a ‘three-tiered revenue source based on income, property and sales taxes’ to add revenue to a budget that is already growing out of control and is out of step with population and inflation,” writes Oregon Catalyst. Jenson’s Republican primary challenger, Mike Mathisen, “calls Jenson’s idea unwise and out of touch with Oregonians’ feelings about giving more money to state government right now.”

(Do conservatives think there’s EVER a right time to give more money to any government, anywhere?)

“I think we all know when politicians get more money from something like a sales tax, they aren’t going to give up money they already have from property and income taxes,” said Mathisen. “Have you ever heard of a politician giving money back to taxpayers unless it was in our Constitution? Once legislators get their hands on our money, it’s gone.”

Maybe after the battle over Measures 66 and 67 is over the conservatives will tell us what tax reforms they’re willing to support … but I’m not betting on it. My hunch is the only “reform” they’d like is the elimination of all taxes, and their real aim is (to paraphrase right-wing pundit and political consultant Grover Norquist) to shrink Oregon government down to the point where they can drown it in a bathtub.

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