The United States used to do big things. In World War II, for example, we almost tripled production to defeat fascism. After the war, federal and state governments constructed the interstate highway system, built the world’s best system of public higher education, sent astronauts to the moon, created Medicare to complement Social Security, expanded the National Park system, and much more. The country was rich and people demanded a growing array of public goods and services to enhance opportunity and the quality of life for all.
Over the past forty years, however, such projects have become increasingly unrealizable. It is not because the country is poorer. Indeed, we are more productive and richer than ever. What has changed, however, is the political context in which economic elites and politicians of both parties, but especially Republicans, have relentlessly attacked the public sector as “inefficient” and sought to shrink the resources available to the state. They have altered tax policies in favor of corporations and the rich, while allowing public services to decline.
Oregon, too, has struggled to satisfy demands that a growing population places upon our transportation infrastructure, state police, parks, schools, and health care system. In recent years, many problems have become acute. Roads and bridges are in disrepair and, except in a few cities like Portland, public transit is neglected. Although our schools have the third largest class sizes in the country and the fourth lowest graduation rates, over 3,400 teachers have been laid off since 2006. The number of seniors living in poverty in Oregon has increased by 21,000 over the past decade, while rising medical costs force thousands of insured Oregonians with moderate incomes to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars in out-of-pocket costs. Public health spending of one cent, per person, per day, leaves us thirty-ninth in the country.
Nationally, real wages have been flat since 1973, while corporate profits have soared. In Oregon average yearly income for workers has fallen between $1,000 and $2,000 since 2002, while corporate profits have risen 170%. Simultaneously, the share of income taxes paid by corporations has plummeted from 18.5% in 1975 to 6.7% today. In 1987 corporations paid 50% of total property taxes, but now they pay only 40%. With Oregon’s corporate tax rate now 50th in the nation, individual households absorb an increasing and disproportionate share of the tax burden and Oregon’s budget is permanently strained.
Measure 97 redresses this growing imbalance. By raising the corporate minimum tax to 2.5% on sales in Oregon that exceed $25 million, the state would raise an additional $3 billion dollars per year that would go far to enhance services for seniors, restore cuts to schools, and improve health care for tens of thousands. Revenue from Measure 97 would ease the pressure on the state’s strained general fund and allow Oregon to make long-term investments in infrastructure, parks, libraries, and other services.
This is not a regressive sales tax. Levied only on “C” corporations with over $25 million in sales, 99.75% of Oregon’s businesses will not have to pay the tax, and most of those that will pay are large, interstate chains such as Walmart, Comcast, Bank of America, and McDonalds. Studies of corporate pricing nationwide show that companies do not charge different prices for most goods in states with different tax rates. Thus, there is no evidence that the tax will be passed on to consumers. Instead, the cost will be absorbed by the firms, as is the case in virtually every other state where corporations pay much higher rates.
Citizens expect government to deliver high quality services. Measure 97 will make it possible for Oregon to regain some of the ground recently lost and to rebalance the tax burden. Vote yes on Measure 97.