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Local editorial

Oregon needs more tax revenue Kulongoski hammered by opponents for uttering the 'sales tax' words

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has come in for some stinging criticism from friend and foe alike in his three-plus years of leading the state. Some of the harshest comments have zeroed in on his leadership abilities and the lack of adequate funding for the state's K-12 schools.

So in a Monday debate, Kulongoski ventured a bit of leadership, with an eye toward addressing school funding: He suggested Oregon needs to find another source of revenue to balance out the pressure on property taxes and the state income tax. That other source ' you guessed it, a sales tax or a consumption tax (which sounds a lot like a sales tax with a longer name).

And that unleashed the tax hellhounds, who immediately set up a howl with comments like the following:

This is a linchpin, a turning point in this election. For the rest of this campaign, we need to remind voters it is Ted 'Sales Tax' Kulongoski who will be running.

That quote came from Kevin Destroy Our Schools Mannix, who will be running for the Republican nomination. Other critics included Democratic hopeful Peter Sorenson, who said he opposes a sales tax and Independent candidate Ben Westlund, who suggested that Kulongoski stole the idea from him. The director of the Taxpayers Association of Oregon said voters want to see more evidence of thrift from state and local governments before they would consider a new tax.

So much for leadership. The governor's camp quickly said the sales tax talk was raised theoretically and that Kulongoski has no plan to propose such a change.

— And that's too bad. Maybe a sales tax isn't the right answer, but this state desperately needs a new tax, or at least new tax revenues. Oregon is in the bottom fifth for tax burden in the United States. We rank 41st among 50 states in per capita taxes paid and 42nd in percent of personal income that goes to taxes.

So we pay more taxes than states like Mississippi and Alabama, Deep South states that have historically underfunded education and public services. Boy, we should be proud to be in that company.

What we get for our parsimony is a State Police force that can't muster up a car in 100 miles to stop a group of speeders on Interstate 5. We have the shortest school year in the nation. We have cut funds to the elderly, those unable to afford medical care, kids trying to get a college education, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses ... well, you get the idea.

At the same time we give back income tax money to corporations that already get enormous breaks on property taxes. Ask a few business executives if they would rather have the couple hundred dollars in kicker refunds or a better school system.

It is time for leadership in this state. And when we get some, maybe it's time for the rest of us to step up and support it.