Editorial: Pay attention to talk about tax reform and sales tax

Oregonians have a long history with ballot measures that would impose a general sales tax on goods and services sold within the state, and it appears the matter is likely to make it to the ballot again soon. Knowing that, voters should pay attention to the discussions being held on the subject.

Oregon is one of only five states to lack a sales tax — the others are Alaska, Montana, New Hampshire and Delaware — and voters here have rejected them at least nine times.

No proposal has been defeated by a less than 2-1 margin, though two advisory votes failed by smaller figures.

Still, there are good, valid reasons for taking up the discussion again. It should not be, though, a revenue grab. Lawmakers should aim to make the addition of the new tax revenue neutral.

The Great Recession, with its plummeting property values and income tax collections, made the weakness of relying on a two-legged tax stool all too clear. Schools suffered tremendous damage as their income, heavily dependent on both property and income taxes, fell. Layoffs were the result and most still have not yet been able to bring staffing back to prerecession levels.

Schools weren’t the only ones to suffer, however. City, county and state governments all took a hit, and like schools, they’re still in recovery mode.

The result is that lawmakers, would-be office holders and the governor all are looking at ways to revise the state’s taxing system sometime in the near future. That’s natural — a sales tax might make it easier for government to weather economic downturns in the state.

Thus Gov. John Kitzhaber is talking about tax reform, though he won’t be specific just yet. State Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, actually proposed a sales tax measure during the 2013 Legislature, and he continues to tout the idyea. At the same time, Jon Justesen, a rancher who may run in the Republican gubernatorial primary, also is talking sales tax.

All that chatter hints, strongly, at a tax proposal to come, and that’s why voters should begin paying attention now. They’re almost certain to be asked to vote on the issue, and informed votes, no matter what they are, are better than ones based solely on emotion.