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Tax reform worth discussing

The governor wants a 'time out' on tax talk ' but if not now, when?

Gov. Ted Kulongoski dropped by the Rogue Valley Country Club last week to give an encore performance of his State of the State address. It was a predictably upbeat assessment of where Oregon stands now and where it's headed in the near future.

We don't fault the governor for putting the best face on what does appear to be an improving outlook for the state. But we think he missed an opportunity to stress the importance of tax-reform discussions now under way around the state.

On the plus side, Kulongoski pointed to reform of the Public Employee Retirement System, saving billions, and to efforts to streamline state purchasing, consolidate computer networks and centralize the state motor pool ' just a few examples of the many real cost-cutting moves already happening in Oregon government.

These are not just words. Merging data and computer network centers will save state taxpayers &

36;20 million to &

36;40 million per biennium. Merging 30 separate motor pools, coordinating vehicle use between agencies and buying sport utility vehicles only when their extra capabilities are necessary will also save money.

The governor pointed out that the latest revenue forecast is &

36;120 million larger than the previous forecast. More than half of that amount ' &

36;76 million ' is money that was not spent in the current two-year budget cycle. And half of that &

36;76 million came from trimming administrative overhead in state agencies ' exactly the kind of change voters have said they want from state government.

Having made that case, the governor could have put in a plug for an overhaul of the state tax system. It is the cyclical nature of the tax system that is largely responsible for the revenue shortfall that made painful budget cuts necessary.

— The Joint Interim Committee on Tax Reform, a panel of lawmakers created by the Legislature last summer, is even now touring the state to gather public comments on how to make the state's tax system more stable, better able to weather the ups and downs of the economy while maintaining vital state services. In fact, the committee met in Medford the day before Kulongoski's visit.

But on Thursday, the governor said Oregonians are burned out from the debate over Ballot Measure 30 and need a time out from talk about taxes.

We disagree.

If there was ever a time to talk seriously about tax reform, it is now, while painful budget cuts are being imposed and the memory of the longest legislative session in history is still fresh.

It is probably too much to ask that the Legislature will implement major changes this year. But it is vitally important that the issue be discussed, and the foundation laid for real reform when lawmakers convene again next year.

A worthy goal

How would you like to have a children's museum in the community that would challenge young minds and explore imagination through play? Organizers of the Kids' Imagination Discovery Station have been planning just such a venture for several years. That long-term approach is exactly what such an ambitious project requires.

The Medford venture would complement other attractions in the area ' including ScienceWorks in Ashland.

Organizers of the Discovery Station said the region has a desperate need for such facilities, but they held off to give ScienceWorks time to complete its project. That's the kind of cooperation that is essential if both ventures are to succeed.

Discovery Station organizers appear to be doing the right things ' taking their time, studying similar ventures elsewhere to learn what did and didn't work ' before opening the doors. We wish them success.