No on Measure 85

Written by Baker City Herald Editorial Board October 26, 2012 09:26 am

When someone suggests the government should get to keep more money earned by individuals or businesses, our first question is always: “What’s the government going to do with it?”

Proponents of Measure 85 on the Nov. 6 ballot, which would end Oregon’s corporate tax “kicker” system, answer our query with the predictable: “It’s for the kids.”

Except it might not be for the kids.

The money could, in fact, be used for pretty much whatever the Legislature decides.

That uncertainty is why we urge a “no” vote on Measure 85.

To be clear, the measure has nothing to do with the other leg of Oregon’s unusual income tax kicker system. The personal kicker, which gives rebates to people and families when income tax revenue exceeds the state’s projects by more than 2 percent, wouldn’t be affected by Measure 85.

The measure instead targets the corporate kicker, which works the same way but is by far the smaller, in dollars, of the two legs. Since the kicker system started in the late 1970s, the state has “kicked back” $2.6 billion in personal taxes, and $527 million to corporations.

Measure 85 would divert any future corporate kickers — there have been just three in the past 20 years — to the state’s general fund.

The measure’s backers say that money is destined to prop up Oregon’s financially ailing public schools.

But there’s a lot more to the general fund than schools. And Measure 85 doesn’t require the Legislature to spend corporate kicker dollars on schools.

Ultimately the measure isn’t necessary anyway.

The Legislature already can vote to keep the corporate kicker — and it has, most recently in 2007.

On that occasion lawmakers put the money into a rainy day fund that can’t be tapped except with the support of two-thirds of the Legislature.

That at least put a level of restraint on how the money is spent.

Measure 85, by contrast, would simply dump the dollars into the maw of the general fund. If we’re going to stamp out the corporate kicker we need more assurance that the money will be spent wisely.