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Insure kids, but not this way

Local editorial

It's a bad time to raise payroll taxes to expand the Oregon Health Plan

It won't be often you'll find an argument here against providing health insurance for children. Kids rely on adults to keep them safe, and we should.

But a new proposal from the Oregon AFL-CIO isn't the way to go about it, not today.

The union is floating a plan to pay for Oregon Health Plan insurance for all residents 18 and younger through business payroll taxes of up to 2 percent. It expects to be ready to put the proposal before voters in November 2004.

You know the saying: There's got to be a better way.

Oregon's political leaders have spent the better part of two years looking for a way out of a financial crisis that threatens to destroy the state. The key, many have concluded, lies in our ability to attract industry.

— Our income tax-heavy system depends on it. If business doesn't come and hire residents and spend money, the state hurts. For evidence of how bad it can be, look at the past two years.

So what have we done for business lately? Oregon has one of the nation's highest minimum wages. Its land-use laws are complex and restrictive. And when fees are considered along with taxes, few states exact a heavier burden.

Despite its storied independence and beauty, the state increasingly wears a less positive label: as a place unable to provide the basics ' decent schools, for example ' and hard on business.

In the coming couple of years it's critical that we deal with that to protect both our reputation and our residents. We must figure out whether today's tax structure will stand or if reform is necessary, find steady money for basic services and attract enough industry to keep it all from falling apart.

Caring for Oregon's children ' an estimated 80,000 of whom lack health coverage ' should be no small part of the discussion. But there are a number of ways they can be included as Oregon talks about how its state-funded health plan will continue and who it should cover.

Trying to force business into the mix doesn't strike us as an evenhanded attempt at solving the problem. It would, however, create another excuse for business to check us out and head the other way.