The budget holes of the past 25 years continue to cook up quite a mess for our leaders in Salem. Today, we were served what we bought when the Oregon House approved a $7.255 billion education budget. It’s an increase over the current biennium that pays for full day kindergarten, but it simply still isn’t enough for our kids. It doesn’t begin to hire back the 3,386 teachers that have been lost during the last decade, and it doesn’t add school days to one of the shortest school years in the country. A student that graduates from an Oregon high school will still miss out on an entire year of school in comparison to the national average.
So once again, our gaping budget holes are making sure our kids are not getting the schools and educations they deserve. Oregon’s education budget – and Oregon’s students – are suffering and falling behind because there’s simply not enough money to go around. In Oregon, this has been a problem for decades and the lack of resources is driven mostly by the fact that large and out-of-state corporations are not paying their fair share.
How do we know that corporations aren’t paying their fair share? Well, we know that Oregon has the country’s lowest tax rate, and that we’d have to raise corporate taxes by nearly $1 billion a year just to move from the lowest to the second lowest corporate tax rate. What’s more, even at the lowest rates, most large corporations are paying only the minimum tax. That’s right: Many highly profitable businesses are paying the corporate minimum of $150 a year in taxes in Oregon. And there’s more – in 2012 nearly 400 corporations paid absolutely nothing in taxes – zero. How do they do it? Many of them reduce their tax bill by stashing profits overseas, so their tax rates are further reduced, and others are using loopholes to eliminate having to pay taxes altogether. A report by Bloomberg news found that over $2.1 trillion dollars are in off-shore corporate accounts. What’s more, because Oregon has no corporate tax transparency laws, we don’t even know which public corporations are paying zero taxes and which are paying their fair share.
This week in the Oregon legislature, a lot of these problems, along with some of the solutions, are coming to a head.
The bad news is that an education budget that everyone agrees is inadequate is moving through the Legislature – until corporations start paying their fair share, there isn’t enough for the teachers and services we need.
The good news? Our Legislature is starting to hold large and out-of-state corporations accountable. The House Revenue Committee is tackling corporate accountability by hearing a bill that stops the egregious off-shore tax haven problem. There are bills that would close the loophole that allows almost 400 corporations to pay zero dollars in taxes. The Legislature is moving, but even these simple ideas are opposed by tax haven ne’er-do-wells like the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and The Netherlands, and industry groups like Associated Oregon Industries.
Clearly, the Legislature is on to something. Closing the Zero Tax Loophole won’t hire back 3500 teachers, but it sends the right message to our community: We all have to pay our fair share for our infrastructure, our schools, and our services.
By making common sense moves now, the Legislature sets the stage for a game-changing move on the 2016 ballot, where a group of parents, advocates, teachers and more have put up a measure that would increase taxes on only the largest corporations.
Legislative action to hold corporations accountable combined with a strong ballot measure that funds our schools? That’s a nice recipe for a better Oregon.