Last night, Portland news station KGW turned in an astonishingly bad, one-sided, and inaccurate “report” that claimed that Oregon residents are leaving the state for Vancouver in order to avoid paying taxes.
(Update: KGW took down the video and posted an edited version of the story. You can still see the original video–for the time being–here.)
Reporter Joe Smith’s story was based on one shoddy blog post from an anti-tax lobbyist, along with an interview by a real estate broker. Not only was the story incorrect, but Smith didn’t even bother to talk to anyone from the other side. Usually, good reporters will work to include balance in their stories. Smith didn’t even bother to pick up the phone.
So, we’ll do what he and KGW failed to do, which is to provide the actual facts behind his bogus report. (The story, by the way, was based on a blog post by Jason Williams from the Taxpayers Association of Oregon, an anti-tax, pro-corporate lobbying group.)
Bogus Claim: Three thousand more Oregonians have moved to Washington to avoid paying taxes under Measures 66 and 67.
FACT: This “report” is based entirely on unreliable data: driver’s license applications. It’s true that the Washington Office of Licensing showed an increase in 2010 of people trading in their Oregon driver’s licenses for Washington licenses—an increase of 1,332 in Clark County.
But here’s the catch: In July 2010, the Washington State Patrol reinstated its License Investigation Unit, which started cracking down on Washington residents who hold out of state (mostly Oregon) licenses in order to avoid paying sales taxes. The data is clear—from July to October (the period when the enforcement began), 2,823 more people than average changed their driver’s licenses.
In other words, the data that KGW relied on was the result of a state trooper crackdown on Washington scofflaws, not people moving to Vancouver to avoid taxes. This basic fact refutes all of KGW’s reporting.
FACT: While Clark County is growing, there is no evidence to suggest that the rate of growth is being driven by a tax increase that doesn’t affect 97.5% of Oregonians. Is it possible that a few millionaires moved across the river to protect their income? Maybe. But none were found for this KGW story, which repeats an unsubstantiated, ideological claim from people still fighting Measures 66 and 67.
KGW never looked at the other side of the coin–how many people moved TO Oregon. In fact, all three counties in the Portland metro area (Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas) continue to increase in population.
FACT: Clark County’s unemployment rate has continued to hover around 13%, much higher than Multnomah County’s 9.3%.
Given that many Clark County residents continue to work in Multnomah County, they’re still paying income taxes in Oregon, which would make for a very poor tax avoidance strategy.
FACT: If any businesses are moving to Washington, they’re paying far more in taxes than in Oregon. Washington’s gross receipts tax is nearly five times higher than Oregon’s corporate minimum tax.
Washington’s overall business tax burden is the 14th highest in the nation. Oregon’s is the second lowest.
Bogus Claim: “Measures 66 and 67 passed in 2009, raising the personal and corporate income tax created higher unemployment and now a shortfall in the amount of tax collected.”
FACT: Unemployment has dropped nearly two full percentage points since 2009. Oregon’s unemployment rate reached its peak in May 2009 at 12.2%. Today, more than a year after voters approved Measures 66 and 67, the rate is 10.4%.
Many corporate sectors are now generating record profits, and scores of businesses continue to announce that they are moving to or expanding here in the state. (See www.oregonopenforbiz.org for a partial list.)
True, Measure 66 has brought in a bit less money than state economists originally predicted, but that’s because of the economic recession. Given the state’s current budget crisis, a better question for earnest reporting might be whether Oregon can still afford to have the second lowest corporate taxes in the country while struggling to fund our schools and critical services.
It’s clear that Joe Smith’s reporting on this story was not up to KGW’s standards, nor the standards of ethical journalism anywhere. It used unsubstantiated, bogus data, and simply regurgitated a blog post from an anti-tax lobbyist. Worse, they didn’t include a single opposing voice.
We urge you to call or email KGW’s News Director, Rod Gramer, at 503-226-5000 or firstname.lastname@example.org and tell him you expect balance and accuracy from his news department, not just anti-tax propaganda.