Oregon’s economy, most of it, is improving. Slowly. The rural economy, which means much of Eastern Oregon, is improving at a snail’s pace, if it is improving at all. At least that’s what the state economist told members of the Legislature’s finance and revenue committees Wednesday.
Rural Oregon faces problems that go far beyond a collapse in the housing market, however. Ranching, the mainstay of places like Mitchell and Condon, is becoming an old man’s business — the average age of the American farmer is over 57 — and young people are increasingly moving to Portland and other metropolitan areas for work. If enough people leave, there’s the real possibility that even if a business was interested in moving to a rural area, no one would be left to work for it.
That’s bad enough. But in the push to find more money for the state, there’s at least one potential ballot measure that could make it far worse. That’s the one that would require the state to tax corporations, no matter how large or how small, at the same rate as the personal income tax.
Given that Oregonians pay the third-highest personal income taxes in the country, behind only New York and Maryland, that would be a disaster. We can’t imagine a businessman in his right mind choosing to come to Oregon under such circumstances, facing as he would an income-tax schedule that hits nearly 10 percent at $15,500 income for a couple and rises as high as 11 percent. Nor can we see why a business would choose to grow under such circumstances or even stay in the state if a move elsewhere was possible.
A measure like that would not only hit the Intels of Oregon in the pocketbook, but also agriculture — which makes up nearly 10 percent of the state’s economy — and much smaller home-owned stores on Wall Street in downtown Bend.
If Oregon’s economy is to grow outside metropolitan Portland, it will take businesses to make it happen. It will take large corporations, of course, but it will also take incorporated family farms and businesses. Taxing them at personal income tax rates will make that growth much more difficult.