Oregon Economist: Taxes and the Rainy-Day Fund

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By Patrick Emerson
Oregon Economics Blog

A rather depressing sense of self-satisfaction seems to have consumed the state democrats after the passage of Measures 66 & 67. But celebrating their passage as a major political victory, and allowing their passage to become an excuse not to immediately address the revenue instability that necessitated the new taxes, is a serious mistake. The taxes were not a victory to celebrate but a disheartening sign of the disfunction of the state’s revenue system. The fact that we had to pass them should be seen as a defeat, not a victory, and as a condemnation of our stewardship of the state’s finances. To allow these new taxes to take our eyes off of real reform is to squander an opportunity to permanently fix what’s wrong with the states revenues. Everyone is (or should be) upset, and motivated to fix what is wrong.

One of the main reasons for this lack of urgency, I believe, is the sense that these new taxes were carefully targeted, so that there is little real effect on most Oregonians – that we get a free lunch. But this ignores one of the most basic lessons in economics: TAXES DON’T STAY WHERE YOU PUT THEM.

Even a tax on the wealthiest households don’t stay there. Research has shown that employer’s pay is based on real wages net of taxes – so businesses will end up compensating highly paid employees for the new taxes – which increases their cost of doing business, which will end up in higher prices and lower share performance, both of which affect everyone. [This is the reason, by the way, why income taxes do not turn out to be very effective in addressing income inequality] New taxes on businesses will have the same effect, eventually making their way into higher prices and lower quantities which means – yes – jobs. The point is all Oregonians end up paying these new taxes in some small way and so we should all be upset that we got to this point in the first place.

I supported the new taxes and still do: they were necessary in my opinion and the net effect should be minimal. But there will be effects, make no mistake. I would have preferred them to be entirely temporary because of this.

So it is time for the state legislature to stop wallowing in self-satisfied complacency and get a permanent rainy-day fund passed this year. I have been very critical of the Governor in the past, but he is spot on this time in trying to get this moving now. Because whether you voted for or against Measures 66 & 67 you shouldn’t be happy – you should be motivated for real reform.