Tax big business. “Yeah.. that’s the ticket! Yeah, you betcha!,” SNL’s Tommy Flanagan would say.
A Better Oregon, a campaign organization operating under the umbrella of Portland-based Our Oregon, a coalition of unions and progressive groups, agrees.
A Better Oregon is promoting Initiative Petition 28 for the November 2016 ballot. The measure would raise the corporate minimum tax on Oregon sales of more than $25 million a year from the current minimum of $50,000 to $30,001 plus 2.5 percent of the excess over $25 million. The tax would be based solely on sales, not profit.
The Legislative Revenue Office estimates the corporate tax measure would raise $5.3 billion during the 2017-2019 biennium. Corporate taxes during that biennium under the current system are projected to reach about $1.1 billion.
In other words, the measure would increase corporate tax collections per biennium by a whopping 400 percent in one fell swoop.
Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland), when endorsing the measure, said it would eliminate much of the constant need to choose between funding critical budget concerns each legislative session. “If that passes, we’ll have a lot of money to pay for stuff,” Greenlick said.
Otherwise, Greenlick said, most of the additional revenue in the economic forecast for the 2017-2019 budget would go to cover increased PERS liabilities and the state’s increased share of Medicaid funding, leaving little additional revenue for new stuff.
But not to worry, says Ben Unger, executive director of Our Oregon. The extra money won’t come out of your pocket. It will come mostly from large out-of-state corporations.
About 1,000 corporations doing business in Oregon, mostly multi-state corporations, would be affected by the higher taxes.
“This measure will make sure that large and out-of-state corporations do their part to fund the schools and services that will make Oregon thrive,” Our Oregon says on its website.
As long ago as I can remember advocates for higher taxes in Oregon have been making “out-of-state corporations” the bogeyman, the malignant beast that’s doing Oregonians wrong and needs to pay.
But as attractive a target as these corporations are, they’re not fools. They will find a way to avoid paying the taxes or they’ll pass on the added taxes to Oregon consumers as a stealth sales tax.
Moving a company’s headquarters to another state with a more congenial tax environment, as GE is doing with its recently announced shift from Connecticut to Massachusetts, won’t solve the problem, but there are always run-arounds.
Maybe some businesses will change their ownership form to get sales in Oregon under the $25 million trigger. Others may institute some special, higher regional pricing.
Some creative companies may become benefit corporations. Our Oregon thought it was being clever and supportive of the “good guys” when it inserted a provision in its initiative to exclude benefit companies under ORS 60.754 from the higher taxes. But this opened a loophole ripe for exploitation.
The liberal coalition behind Initiative petition 28, recalling their success in a tax increase battle in 2010, may be figuring they have a sure thing again with another measure targeting big business, but hopefully Oregonians in their wisdom will see this proposal is a reach too far.