Tina Kotek, the Democratic speaker of the Oregon House, doesn’t get it. Oregon’s kicker money, whether it’s $1 per taxpayer or $1 million, does not belong to the state of Oregon. As the constitution says, it belongs to the roughly 2 million Oregonians who file personal income tax returns in this state.
Kicker rebates are unique to Oregon. Our constitution requires that when revenues exceed budget estimates by 2 percent or more, all money above original estimates must be returned to taxpayers who, after all, sent it to Salem in the first place. While there are problems with the way the kicker operates, those problems should be corrected in the normal way all changes to the constitution are made. Oregon voters should have the final say on any changes.
On May 15 Kotek learned, along with all Oregonians, that state revenues are likely to exceed estimates by some $1.4 billion during this biennium. Under the kicker provision, all that should go back to taxpayers.
Kotek has other ideas. On May 16 she introduced her kicker-grab legislation, House Bill 3440. It was the same day that Gov. Kate Brown signed a $1 billion hidden sales tax bill into law.
Kotek hopes to persuade lawmakers to keep fully half the kicker money in Salem. Her bill would allocate $260 million to improvements to a bridge over the Willamette River south of Portland. Another $245 million would go to the state’s “Clean Diesel Engine Fund,” set up to help Oregon freight carriers invest in cleaner-burning diesel engines. Finally, $245 million would go to a new “Zero Emission Fund” that would create infrastructure to help the state transition to zero-emission vehicles.
It’s a terrible idea.
Oregon has one of the most aggressive income-tax systems in the United States. Single taxpayers hit the 9% bracket with only $8,900 in adjusted gross income. In neighboring California, it takes more than $56,000 in adjusted gross income to reach the 9.3% bracket, and in New Jersey single taxpayers don’t reach the 8.79% bracket until they have adjusted gross incomes of $500,000, according to the Tax Foundation.
Our kicker helps, at least sometimes, to make up for the aggressiveness of our tax system. Kotek’s HB 3440 is a stinker, and it should be consigned to the garbage, where smelly things go.