A step for fairness, stability in Oregon

What do the following things have in common? Oregon's schools "¦ $10 "¦ public safety "¦1931 "¦ care for seniors and the disabled "¦ fairness "¦ $150 "¦ stability "¦ one-tenth of 1 percent "¦ misinformation and hysteria.

Well, the first nine items have to do with the recently passed corporate tax package for our state. The last two items are unfortunately a description of the reaction of a handful of members of the business community.

Here's the deal: the minimum tax rate for Oregon corporations has been $10 since 1934. Companies as large as Intel and PGE have paid $10 while ordinary Oregon taxpayers and many small businesses have shouldered an increasingly large share of the costs to pay for our schools, public safety and care for our seniors and disabled.

It has proven extremely difficult to address this issue of unfairness since 1931 — the last time we changed the corporate minimum tax. The business lobby in Salem is very strong. Any attempt to try to bring fairness into our tax system, to ask businesses to help pay a fair share for the wide variety of services such as courts, community colleges and universities needed for our economy to thrive, has been defeated by an army of lobbyists and many thousands of dollars in campaign contributions.

Now, with our country and our state experiencing the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, the Oregon Legislature has finally been able to address corporate taxation and make changes that are fair and progressive. We have raised the basic corporate minimum from 1931's $10 to $150 in 2009. And we are asking companies doing business in Oregon to contribute a maximum of one-tenth of 1 percent of their total sales in Oregon to help pay for our schools, our public safety, and care for our seniors and disabled.

One-tenth of 1 percent of gross Oregon sales. Please keep that in mind when you hear the statements of misinformation and hysteria. One local business leader was even quoted in the Mail Tribune stating that asking companies to contribute one-tenth of 1 percent means "Apparently, Oregon closed for business last week."

One-tenth of 1 percent.

The other part of the corporate tax package that has received significant attention is the request for companies who are profiting even in this recession to contribute a small fraction more to our state's needs.

We are asking companies that have a profit — and please note that we are talking about a profit after full deductions for payroll, health care and all other business expenses — of over $250,000 per year to contribute 1.3 percent more than they are currently paying. And after four years that percentage is lowered back to the current rate, except for companies earning a net $10 million or more, and any revenue brought in by taxes that are set higher than they are currently will be placed directly in Oregon's rainy-day fund to bring much needed stability for funding for our schools, public safety, etc.

This corporate tax package, along with the recently passed revisions of the individual tax rates for the wealthiest Oregonians, are specific steps to bring more fairness to our state's tax system. There is still a long way to go. We need to build our rainy-day fund to the point where our reserves can consistently serve to provide stable funding for our schools, our courts and other vital state services.

We have worked hard to bring about changes that are fair, long ranging and effective. When you hear the outrage over what the Legislature has finally done with corporate taxes after over 70 years of inaction, please remember this: Behind all those numbers I listed at the top are real people. They are students. They are seniors. They are Oregon families struggling through a horrible recession. And they need our help.

State Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, represents District 5 in the Oregon House, where he serves as co-chairman of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee.

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