Representative Dennis Richardson: 10th Amendment and Taxes

This newsletter addresses two important topics: Tenth Amendment rights and Oregon tax increases.
By Representative Dennis Richardson

Tenth Amendment Rights

Does anyone care? In recent decades, we Americans have silently watched as federal agencies, Congress and our Presidents have relentlessly eroded the fundamental, constitutionally protected rights of the states and the American people. Whether we are liberals, moderates or conservatives is immaterial. Constitutional law is non-partisan. We are red (Republicans), white (Independents), and blue (Democrats) Americans, and we love our state, our country and we honor the United States Constitution. It was written to limit the power of the central government and thereby protect the rights of the states and the people. Yet, the federal government has assumed authority over state issues such as, regulating our forests, farms and fisheries, managing Oregon’s public lands and beaches, maintaining a clean environment, defining marriage and domestic partnerships, and regulating abortions and end-of-life decisions. These are issues not granted or “enumerated” in the Constitution and are therefore, retained by the states and the people, and should not be dictated by distant bureaucrats in Washington D.C.

This debate over federalism goes to the very heart of the American experiment. Are we citizens of 50 states, united in the common goal of ensuring “that this government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth,” or are we subjects of the federal government, divided into 50 provinces, subservient to the “mother country”? The promise of America, as enumerated in America’s “birth certificate,” the Declaration of Independence, and in its foundational charter, the United States Constitution, proclaim we are a free people who have created a central government with limited power.

In the past few years, the power of the federal government has grown dramatically. Whether you believe it necessary or not, consider for a moment the significance of nationalizing the banking system, the automobile industry, Wall Street, $12 Trillion of additional national debt, and the current discussions for a federally controlled health care system. As Bob Dylan crooned when I was young, “the times, they are a-changing.”

Change is inevitable, yet without a compass our nation and our freedom can be lost. The compass that has guided us for 222 years, that has kept America the land of the free and the hope of the world, is the United States Constitution. As an Oregon legislator, I have sworn to uphold and defend it. You can too.

Oregon’s current legislative session is drawing to a close, and there is one bi-partisan, pro-constitution bill that needs to be debated and passed by all Representatives and Senators who honor and sustain the Constitution. The bill is House Joint Memorial 17. It is a letter to our elected officials in Washington D.C., and it states the following:

House Joint Memorial 17. (Click here to read bill) To the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled:

We, your memorialists, the Seventy-fifth Legislative Assembly of the State of Oregon, in legislative session assembled, respectfully represent as follows:

Whereas the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”; and

Whereas the Tenth Amendment defines the total scope of federal power as being that specifically granted by the Constitution of the United States and no more; and

Whereas the scope of power defined by the Tenth Amendment means that the federal government was created by the states specifically to be an agent of the states; and

Whereas in 2009, the states are instead treated as agents of the federal government; and

Whereas many federal mandates are imposed by the federal government in direct violation of the Tenth Amendment; and

Whereas the United States Supreme Court has ruled in New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144, 175 (1992), that Congress may not simply commandeer the legislative and regulatory processes of the states; and

Whereas many proposals being considered by the federal government or pending before Congress may further violate the Constitution of the United States; now, therefore,

Be It Resolved by the Legislative Assembly of the State of Oregon:

(1) The Congress of the United States of America is requested to direct the federal government to immediately cease and desist imposing mandates that are beyond the scope of those powers expressly delegated by the Constitution of the United States to the federal government, so that the State of Oregon may freely exercise the sovereignty due the State of Oregon under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

(2) A copy of this memorial shall be sent to the President of the United States, the Senate Majority Leader, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and each member of the Oregon Congressional Delegation.

If you care about preserving the 10th Amendment of the Bill of Rights, please vote in the brief survey located here. The results will be circulated to your Representatives and Senators, asking them to consider your feelings about the 10th Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the U. S. Constitution.

Oregon Tax Increases

While Oregon’s economy is burning, Salem is fiddling with the tax code and passing multiple, substantial and permanent tax increases to fund the 2009-11 biennial budgets. Yesterday, the Oregon Senate passed $733 million of personal and corporate tax increases.

Brad Cain, Associated Press Reporter, summarized the tax bills as follows:

“One of the bills sets a higher tax rate for individuals who make more than $125,000 a year or households that report more than $250,000 a year in earnings.

“Income over those amounts would be subject to a bracket of 10.8 percent, instead of 9 percent. Single filers making more $250,000 and households earning more than $500,000 would pay 11 percent tax on income above those levels.

“The other measure would increase the minimum tax paid by two-thirds of businesses incorporated in Oregon. Currently the corporate minimum tax is $10, and the bill contains a sliding scale that starts at $150 for Oregon sales up to $500,000, and tops out at $100,000 for sales greater than $100 million.

“The bill also would require corporations with net incomes above $250,000 to pay a higher corporate tax rate of 7.9 percent instead of 6 percent. And it raises the corporations’ filing fees.” (To read the Associated Press story, click here.)

Oregon’s 2009-11 revenue forecasts are substantially lower than the cost to maintain government’s current service levels. As with any budget that is out of balance–individual, family, business or government–there are only three courses of action: raise revenue, cut expenses, or do both.

I have committed not to vote to increase our citizens’ tax burdens until we can demonstrate that the current revenue streams and levels are being spent efficiently, effectively and economically. (See, “Taxes, Tax Bills & How to Prepare for Hard Times Ahead”) So, the question is, “Are substantial tax increases now justifiable?”

On the one hand, there are escalating costs to social programs, such as TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as Food Stamps), the Oregon Health Plan, and unemployment compensation benefits. Such government assistance programs have increasing caseloads and costs during economic recessions.

On the other hand, there remains in the 2009-11 budget substantial savings. If state workers paid only 12-15% of their state-provided health benefits, $190 million could be saved. In addition, $250 million of future pay increases to the Governor’s cadre of lieutenants could be saved if the Governor chose to resend the 30% pay increases he approved for them last year.

In fact, the Governor’s own office budget is a good example of unrestrained growth in size and expense. In his 2005-07 budget, the Governor’s budget was $10.9 million with 46 positions; two years later in the 2007-09 budget, it grew to $16.8 million with 64 positions (part of the jump resulted from an accounting change that required workers who had previously been “borrowed” from other agencies to officially become part of the Governor’s office budget). The Governor’s office budget for 2009-11 will grow to $17.3 million with 71 approved employees. Thus, the Governor’s office budget grew a whopping 59% in the past four years, and, even after the accounting adjustments, it will grow nearly 11% in the next budget. How is this possible? I was shocked to learn that the annual salary and benefits paid to all members of his office averages over $90,000 per employee. Of the 62 employees employed on January, 21, 2009, the 30 highest paid employees of the Governor’s office earned more than $122,000 per year in salary and benefits. Such pay and benefits gives a new meaning to “public service.”

The Governor’s office budget is not an isolated instance. While extreme budget cuts are being taken from Oregon Project Independence and other in-home care programs for needy seniors, from education funding for our children, and from other high priority programs for Oregon citizens and families, the Department of Environmental Quality’s budget is being increased by 20%. Oregon suffers with the second highest unemployment rate in the nation, and businesses and families are cutting expenses to the bone, yet many boards and commissions are assessing double digit increases in fees that must be paid by Oregonians already struggling to make a living.

In short, instead of beginning budget discussions by focusing on draconian cuts from current service levels and the need for additional tax revenue to avoid them, we should begin by answering the following questions:

(1.) How reasonable and responsible are current expenditures in every agency?
(2.) Can economies be achieved through zero-based budgeting or other means?
(3.) Can agency and department missions be achieved with greater effectiveness through judicious and innovative use of personnel and technology?
(4.) What are Oregon’s current cash assets and collectible accounts?

Only if additional revenue is needed to accomplish worthy goals of good government after thoroughly analyzing and answering these four questions, should the discussion turn to raising taxes.

Sincerely,

Dennis Richardson
State Representative

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