Silly season is here in Salem

It's a perennial occurrence, especially when the state faces a budget shortfall: Bills materialize in the Legislature with truly twisted ideas for imposing taxes on just about anything. Fortunately, these ideas rarely make it into law, and legislative leaders say two of this year's shining examples are already dead.

The first to pop up last Wednesday was a proposed tax on cars more than 20 years old. The bill would have required the owners of old vehicles to pay $1,000 every five years, presumably for the coveted privilege of continuing to drive a beater.

The proceeds of the tax would have gone to the state Highway Fund, a cause that certainly can use the help, although it's tough to see how an older car is any harder on the asphalt than a newer one. In fact, older cars probably get driven fewer miles — just around town, for instance, as opposed to long road trips — so they should have less impact.

In any case, such a tax would unfairly burden those least able to pay. People who drive old cars because they can't afford new ones are hardly in a position to fork over an extra $200 a year.

That fact was pointed out by many in the outraged reaction to the bill, and minority Republicans immediately pounced on majority Democrats, calling them "out-of-touch liberals" and the tax idea "pathetic."

As harebrained as the old-car tax is, at least there was some connection between the tax and the government service — roads — it was intended to pay for. Not so with example No. 2: a tax of 5 cents a pound on coffee at the wholesale level.

That money would have been earmarked for something called the "Alternative Education Sustainability Fund." The fund would support capital construction and elementary school reading programs.

Certainly many parents depend on coffee to get their little darlings out the door on school mornings. And caffeine is known to help readers stay awake, although it's not usually recommended for schoolchildren.

Maybe members of the House Revenue Committee, where the bill originated, thought it made sense to capitalize on Oregonians' legendary fondness for coffee. Whatever the reason, this bill apparently will be tossed out like yesterday's coffee grounds.

But don't assume these head-scratching ideas are the last. When the Legislature is in session, it pays to pay attention.

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