By Chuck Sheketoff
November 8, 2016, will be remembered as a dark day in Oregon history. An avalanche of corporate money buried with misinformation the best chance in over two decades to finally confront the chronic underfunding of our public schools and other public services. Corporate money won; the people of Oregon lost.
The defeat of Measure 97 underscores the need to change the climate for meaningful tax reform in Oregon, and the starting place is disclosure of corporate taxes.
We know that corporations as a group are getting away with paying far too little in income taxes, but we have no way of knowing which corporations are the worst tax avoiders and which tax loopholes they use to pay nothing or next to nothing in taxes.
Once Oregonians can see for themselves which corporations are paying their share in taxes and which are not, we’re confident the political climate will support the necessary reforms so that Oregon is no longer at the bottom of the pack in business taxes.
Publicly traded and large corporations doing business in Oregon — all of which benefit from our schools, public safety and other public structures — should be required to disclose with the Secretary of State information about their federal and state tax liabilities, how they determine their Oregon profits, and which special tax provisions and accounting gimmicks they use to lower their tax bills.
Corporate tax transparency, and the impetus for tax reform that disclosure would unleash, cannot come too soon. Oregon is staring at a $1.4 billion budget hole for the upcoming budget period. This threatens further setbacks for Oregon public schools, the cutting of safety lines for Oregon’s poorest families, and other painful cuts in services.
Oregon lawmakers must not let this happen. In addition to requiring transparency of corporate tax information, the legislature needs to take some steps toward requiring corporations to pay their share. This means that lawmakers must begin with a hard look at the plethora of ineffective and inefficient tax subsidies and loopholes that contribute to our fiscal problem and let powerful corporations off the hook for paying taxes. A majority of the legislature needs to close them.
Without question, the defeat of Measure 97 is a serious setback for the many Oregonians who yearn for an education system that provides all children a quality education, and public services that support the vulnerable and provide opportunity for all.
For those looking for a path forward, corporate tax disclosure is the change that will make it possible to reform the system.Φ
Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of The Oregon Center for Public Policy (www.ocpp.org), a non-partisan, non-profit institute that does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax and economic issues. The Center’s goal is to improve decision making and generate more opportunities for all Oregonians.