Highly Regressive Tax On Big Corporations

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December 19th, 2015 – The Oregonian by Jeff Gudman
Jeff Gudman

Beaverton’s third Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store opened on Southwest Murray Boulevard March 7.(Anna Marum/Staff)

Once again, Oregonians are being misled by talking points and statistical manipulations to justify a political agenda.

It’s a shame, because it seems like every news story is about backdoor deals to silence public records requests, email scandals and ballot title tinkering. It’s no wonder Oregonians are leaving the party system and having less and less confidence in their government telling them the truth.

The latest proposal is Initiative Petition 28. Make no mistake, this is the most regressive form of a sales tax we’ve ever seen — one that doesn’t exempt food or medicine — hidden as a tax on “big corporations.”

If you can’t get past that sentence because you believe corporate America is greedy, manipulative and selfish, I challenge you to leaf through the headlines right now and see how many of those themes belong to our own state government leadership.

The proposal calls for a 2.5 percent tax on the gross sales of corporations. There is no magic pile of money this will target. The tax will be passed through to the cost of products and services to every Oregonian who eats, sleeps or drives.

On Dec. 8, the Oregon Center for Public Policy distributed an email citing a study claiming that Oregon has the lowest business taxes in the country. Of course, if you follow the footnotes you’ll find enough caveats and exclusions to make a late-night infomercial jealous. If you’re wonky enough to read the study itself, you’ll find a disclaimer that Oregon’s ranking is due to its lack of a sales tax, accounting for 21 percent of state and local business taxes nationwide. Calling it an apples-to-apples comparison with the 45 states that do have a sales tax just isn’t honest.

I recently posted a story to my Facebook page and was astonished by a comment made by a young activist who identified herself as a paid signature gatherer for the petition. She said, “Walmart can afford to pay more than $150 a year. So can Nike, Intel, etc.” The $150 refers to an Oregon minimum corporate tax that most certainly doesn’t apply to Walmart, Nike and Intel. It also doesn’t take into account payroll taxes, property taxes, TriMet taxes, local government taxes, excise taxes and fees for licensing everything from motor vehicles to professional cosmetologists.

How someone could leave unchallenged the claim that big corporations pay only $150 per year baffles me. But I hear it every day.

President Reagan once famously quoted a Russian proverb that translates to “Trust but verify.” As Oregonians, we all need to commit to putting forth that effort. The stakes are simply too high to blindly parrot claims that should otherwise arouse suspicion — regardless of which side you’re on. The only way to combat misleading information is to challenge it and refuse to trust or support those promoting it.

Oregon’s PERS liability is a good example of how previous decisions affect future generations. The consequences of this corporate tax will be no different. Oregon’s future is at stake.

•Jeff Gudman is a Lake Oswego city councilor and Republican candidate for Oregon’s state treasurer.

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