Oregon has taken a lot of hits in the last ten years. More than three thousand teachers have been laid off, and an additional thousand instructional assistants have been let go, too. Tuition and fees at Oregon’s public universities have increased 3 times faster than inflation since the 2005-2006 academic year, and tuition and fees for community college students have more than doubled. Currently, more than 1,600 families are on the waiting list for Employment Related Day Care. Though housing data is hard to compile, think about this: At the end of 2012, Home Forward (formerly the Housing Authority of Portland) accepted applications for one week, for Section 8 subsidized housing in Portland. They received 21,149 applications and held a lottery for the 3,000 they could add to the waiting list. More than two years later, they still have about 1,000 people on the list.
And yet, with all of these cuts – with teachers getting laid off and our students having the second largest class sizes in the nation, with college tuition becoming more out of reach, and with so many families seeming to never catch a break – with all of the growing evidence that Oregon desperately needs more revenue, Oregon will be giving back $350 million in taxes to satisfy our unique kicker law.
Proponents of the kicker like to say that rebates are for “excess” or “surplus” revenues, and that they’ll provide tax relief and boost prosperity. The truth is that those funds are sorely needed for crucial investments in Oregon – to restore education, restore vital public services, and fix crumbling infrastructure. These are the investments that will help grow our economy, and that Oregonians support spending money on.
If unexpected revenues went into a rainy day fund to help weather future revenue shortfalls instead of into individuals’ pockets, important programs like education wouldn’t have to absorb such dramatic cuts during downturns. Laying off staff and cutting services is disruptive for all Oregonians, and bringing back staff and services can be expensive and time-consuming. The result is that Oregon’s government becomes less efficient with taxpayer resources, and taxpayers get the short end of the stick – they don’t get the value they deserve.
On top of the fact that the state is already dealing with the aftermath of disruptive cuts, the sad reality is that the kicker won’t be the economic boost it’s being touted as. Because kicker refunds are proportionate to the amount of taxes paid, a large share of the refunds go to wealthy taxpayers. If the kicker does kick, expect more than 20% of the money to go to the Top 1%, not to the rest of us. And don’t be surprised when the Top 1% pockets the cash instead of spending it to stimulate the economy. Instead of hiring teachers and child care workers for the rest of us, we’re just giving taxes back to the people who best afford to pay them.