By Kay Brooks and Sarah Westover
If State Sen. Alan DeBoer doesn’t help reform Oregon’s tax structure these next few remaining weeks of the legislative session in Salem, here are a few examples of what families and households would have to look forward to in Jackson County:
Severe funding cuts to mental health, senior and disability services.
Substantial funding cuts to the Oregon Preschool Promise program, which provides affordable preschool education for working families
Substantial funding cuts to the Oregon Promise program, which provides low-income high school graduates with a community college education (a commitment made by the state of Oregon to bring families out of poverty).
Substantial funding cuts to workforce services, which provide unemployed Oregonians with employment assistance and getting back to gainful work sooner and easier.
Teacher layoffs in our community classrooms, which are already 45 percent larger than the national average with 20 percent less school spending per student.
Thousands of low income people will lose access to healthcare under the Oregon Health Plan.
So, from where exactly did these threats of funding for our local services come?
Well, one major factor is that in Oregon, our corporate taxes are lower than 44 other US states (88 percent of the nation!), according to a study completed by the Council on State Taxation. Furthermore, the unfair share of taxes being paid by big corporations in Oregon has steadily declined from $1 of every $5 to now $1 out of every $16. Unacceptable.
This massive dump of tax responsibility onto working Oregonians from big, profiting corporations wasn’t the result of Oregonians votes either — not even an open vote by the Legislature. Corporations’ refusal to pay their fair share was wheeled and dealed by corporate lobbyists, behind closed doors in back rooms and little by little until we reached our current state of funding crisis.
So, how exactly then can Sen. DeBoer do his fair share?
Well, first we hope that he’ll keep his campaign promises to help reverse the tax-paying responsibility from working Southern Oregonians back onto the big corporations. This way, they, too, can complete their civic responsibility of supporting education and other basic services for the very Oregonians buying their goods rather than continuing to exploit tax loopholes like the one Sen. DeBoer described in a September 22, 2011 Mail Tribune article which helped him avoid paying $20,000 per year in taxes — an amount that unfortunately reflects many Oregonian families’ entire annual income.
During DeBoer’s campaign, he promised support for “closing loopholes to make sure that everyone, including corporations, pay their fair share,” and that he would “increase funding and make schools the priority,” and ensure “quality, affordable healthcare for all Oregonians.”
... And we sure hope he does.
In the remaining few weeks of the Oregon legislative session in Salem, our elected representatives will be considering plans that could carry out DeBoer’s campaign promises of access and opportunity for education and healthcare.
The reformed tax on the biggest businesses would go a long way toward closing the state budget gap for local services and even support badly needed improvements in class size and early childhood education.
In 2016, even a spokesperson for the Oregon Business Council conceded that more revenue is needed for education and other services that are essential for a strong, vibrant Oregon economy. He called for a “commercial activity tax” on corporations — the very same legislation our representatives are currently considering in Salem.
Sen. DeBoer is not just any member of the Legislature. As a Republican, if he lives up to his promises and supports the plan, the chances of it passing would dramatically increase. Corporate tax reform to invest in education and other services and make our tax system fairer will require 18 votes in the state Senate, and Sen. DeBoer can be instrumental in its success.
As elected city councilors in our Southern Oregon communities, we understand that significant policy improvements can be complicated and require political courage. However, we also know that elected officials take on this responsibility to stand for the broader public interest of Oregonians — not just the biggest corporations with the fanciest corporate lobbyists.
We sincerely hope that Sen. DeBoer will join us in supporting this common sense plan that asks big corporations — and not just the average working, taxpaying Oregonian families — to make sure to do their fair share when it comes to investing in our communities’ futures.
— Kay Brooks serves as a Medford city councilor; Sarah Westover serves as a Phoenix city councilor.