Oregon Business Plan, a coalition of business and civic leaders, is pushing a state policy agenda it says can help fix problems, from the Public Employee Retirement System to business taxes.

The agenda was the centerpiece of the Oregon Leadership Summit in Portland on Monday that attracted more than 1,200 people to discuss problems facing Oregon.

The theme was “Time to Act,” which underlined what Oregon Business Plan said was the state’s “fiscal crisis” involving the estimated $22 billion PERS unfunded long-term liability.

“Every year, the runaway costs of PERS and other government expenditures are eating up a larger share of funds needed for vital public services, such as education and health care,” the group said in its summary of the event.

The business group suggested changes to the state pension system, moving perhaps to a 401(k) defined contribution plan like those used by many businesses. Another option is getting employees to pay into the pension fund.

On tax reform, the group advocated for a business activity tax. It would be a tax on a business revenues minus purchases from other firms.

“On a revenue-neutral basis, such a tax could reduce Oregon’s reliance on income taxes, improve revenue stability, and make Oregon’s tax code more like other states,” the group wrote in its “Time to Act” statement.

“For any such tax to meet the above principles, it would need to be at a low rate, be coupled with reductions in other business and personal taxes, apply equally to all forms of business (C corporations and pass-through businesses), and — like Oregon’s current income tax apportionment — be destination based (taxes only on in-state sales).”

Some Democratic state lawmakers have suggested a gross receipts tax as the answer for government funding shortfalls, but the group said the business activities tax would be “fairer and less economically damaging.”

The group advocated for redirecting any future personal income tax “kicker.”

The rebate to taxpayers would instead go to a “rainy day fund” earmarked for education.

The Oregon Business Plan, started in 2002, has the goal of finding ways to add 25,000 new jobs per year through 2020 and reduce the share of Oregonians in poverty to 10 percent by 2020.

The group claimed it is “getting traction” on its agenda, with job growth the past five years exceeding 25,000 per year. Poverty has gone from 17 percent in 2002 to 13 percent — below the national average of 14 percent. This is the first time since the recession of 2007 that Oregon’s poverty rate was below the national average.

—Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

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