We live in an era of Big Data: By aggregating information about patients, doctors make better medical decisions; by compiling data about consumer preferences, businesses make strategic marketing decisions. Heck, by evaluating data about on-base-percentages, baseball General Managers are making better free agent decisions. From botox to baseball, data helps us make more informed and accurate decisions.
It’s frustrating, then, to see that Oregon’s legislators don’t have access to the data they need to make good tax decisions. Lawmakers are like the rest of the world – they make the best decisions when they have access to good information. Take Oregon’s taxes: Right now, every day in Salem during the legislative session, Legislators are asked to cut this tax, create this tax credit, open a new tax loophole, close this other tax loophole. Special interest lobbyists are asking for all sorts of favors with our tax dollars, yet legislators have no access to know whether or not public corporations are paying their fair share of taxes. Unlike at the federal level, public corporations in Oregon are not required to disclose how much they pay in taxes.
This lack of information leads to bad decision making and shifts the burden of taxes to all of us. How do we know? Well, we don’t get to see what individual companies pay, but we do know that Oregon has the nation’s lowest business taxes. In fact, most corporations qualify to pay only the minimum – a whopping $150 a year. And thanks to a loophole in Oregon’s tax laws, corporations can use tax credits to avoid paying even that. In fact, in 2012, 393 corporations paid $0 in income taxes, which meant the state lost out on $9 million in much-needed revenue.
Under Oregon’s current tax system, we don’t know which corporations are paying their fair share of taxes, and which are paying less than the voter-approved minimum tax. Without that information, we cannot clearly evaluate whether our current policies are creating the intended outcomes. We cannot make sound plans to alleviate the revenue problems our state faces, and restore funding to many crucial services.
There are bills in this Legislative Session that would make sure that public corporations would report how much they pay in state taxes. This could help legislators decide to close loopholes that allow some companies to pay nothing. It could encourage Salem to prioritize lowering taxes for small businesses that can’t afford them, while increasing taxes on the large and out-of-state corporations that make billions in profits each year. It just makes sense! In fact, the only reason one would oppose corporate transparency would be to keep unfavorable behavior – in this case, avoiding paying taxes – hidden from lawmakers and citizens. In case you were wondering – this is not a good reason to hide tax payments.
We need corporate disclosure in Oregon. Simple disclosure that matches the federal standards will help the Oregon Legislature create policies that are fair and that will improve the lives of Oregonians. If we want to restore funding to our schools, to ensure that all qualifying Oregonians have access to Employment Related Day Care or SNAP – we need access to accurate information. Corporations already report their federal taxes, and they should do the same for their state taxes. With good information comes good policies, and that means a better Oregon for all of us.