Lane County Snubs Voters in New Income Tax

Despite voters rejecting an income tax four months ago, Lane County politicians forced it upon the voters anyways. On Thursday Lane County held an afternoon hearing where few working families could attend, and enacted the state’s only county income tax. This is not the first time government snubbed voters. In 2003 voters rejected the big Measure 28 income tax hike, only to have the politicians in Salem approve a bigger income tax six months later.

Multnomah County had an income tax. The tax drove out many taxpayers and business. It was so unpopular in its third year (in the 30% range) that the politicians dared not renew it. Renewing the tax is something Lane County doesn’t have to worry about, because they enacted it without a sunset or time limit.

Lane County felt they had no choice with the looming loss of federal timber payments. There are always choices. But voters were left out in the cold. Alternative tax plans or increased timber harvesting should have been part of the debate, but wasn’t.

Last November, the County politicians help raise over a half million to sell their tax plan to voters. Voters didn’t buy it. Rumor has it that many who funded the November tax withdrew support for a new tax. In the end, the politicians just ran over everyone and rushed to their decision. Lane County taxpayers deserve more choices, deserve much better.

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Posted by at 06:30 | Posted in Measure 37 | 16 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • CRAWDUDE

    Once again , an example of government not being able to come up with good reasons why they need to raise taxes. This time the thwarted the will of the people and the people will have the last word when an initiative is put on the ballot. Since it was shoved down peoples throats…………even people who would have supported it had it been put on the ballot by politicians will now vote against it.

    Much like the Oregon governors sales tax plan: Their numbers don’t jive and if they needed money that bad why is the Governor on a huge spending spree with his budget proposals. We’d be throwing good money after bad by going to a sales tax…………unless the income tax was 0.

  • David G

    I think the Lane County income tax needs to be watched closely. A county income tax was defeated by the voters in both Benton and Harney counties in 2003. But you can bet that the commissioners in every county in the state are watching the Lane experiment closely. They of course can’t resist getting their hands into the voters’ pocketbooks again.

    The two dangerous features about the Lane County tax are that: voters did not need to approve of it first; and, once established, the commissioners can raise the tax rate whenever they feel they need more money – which of course is all the time.

    Voters enacted limits on property taxes for the reason that the county commissioners were uncontrolled in raising property tax rates. Now the commissioners no longer have that power with respect to property taxes. The income tax is their new way to get around the property tax limitation. Lane County voters need to get a referendum going and repeal the tax decisively; otherwise I am afraid every county in the state will soon be enacting income taxes and we will back to spiralling county tax rates – just like before the property tax limitations were enacted. We will probably need another statewide initiative to control county income taxes.

  • Jack Roberts

    C’mon, Jason, at least be fair. The hearing you complain was an “afternoon hearing where few working families could attend” was the third public hearing on this proposed tax. The one held the week before was at night specifically so that “working people” could attend.

    Your statement that “Alternative tax plans or increased timber harvesting should have been part of the debate, but wasn’t” is simply untrue. The county spent the last year exploring alternative taxes with many public hearings on various options and has spent the last 15 years trying to get the federal government to allow a more balanced approach to managing our federal timberlands–all to no avial.

    Even if you add the existing federal timber payments to the local property tax base, the combined rate is already lower than all but two counties in the state (it’s basically the same as Hood River and a little higher than Clatsop). Lane County has cut its budget in 12 of the last 15 years, including cutting $30 million and 170 jobs during the last three years. Meanwhile, approximately 70% of the county’s general fund is spent on public safety, which therefore has borne and will continue to bear the greatest burden of any cuts.

    Now the county is faced with the loss of nearly 40% of its revenue base by the failure of Congress to continue making their payments or allowing for increased harvests on our federal lands.

    And before you drag PERS into this, I would also point out that it was Lane County and the City of Eugene who commenced the litigation over PERS mismanagement that helped drive those rates to unsustainable levels.

    It is very easy to criticize and find fault. Now its time for action. If anyone has a workable alternative to what the county did, I haven’t heard it. As someone who lives in Lane County and will pay the tax, I regard it as far preferable to watching our public safety system collapse.

    • eagle eye

      Jack, the county’s action was a poke in the eye to the voters. Now there’s going to be a referendum, and the tax is going to go down.

      Whatever the real difficulties Lane County is in, an income tax would be ruinous. Lane County is in enough economic trouble as it is.

      The only reason they adopted an income tax is because they know the voters have voted down property taxes in the past and will do so in the future. (And, the income tax is a way to get around the state property tax limitations, which Lane County would bump up against soon.)

      The best thing would be for the County to take the hit, see what shakes out in terms of county services, and see how the voters like it. Maybe they’ll go for higher taxes. I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it.

  • Slevin

    I haven’t heard anything about what the other counties are doing. What is going on?

  • J.

    LANE COUNTY INCOME TAX
    How many folks do you know that make five or six figure income?
    Most people I know struggle to maintain an income of five figures and give their families the comfort they want to provide.
    Set aside the fact that these three Commissioners want to take an additional 30 to 50 bucks a month from me without me getting the chance to approve or disapprove it is just wrong.

    I would not be against the new tax as much if the County Board would have attempted to seek a change in the state law that prohibits the taxing income of PERS, CITY, COUNTY, STATE, TEACHERS, FEDERAL AND RETIREMENT INCOME, no that would effect the income that they receive now and in the future. The simple fact that the County Board has sat back for the last 3 years and done “O” about the cut in federal funds that had a ten year drop dead date is even more of a breach in trust.

    I’ll not willingly give another dime in taxes, no matter the rationale, until the playing field is leveled as far as PERS, CITY, COUNTY, STATE, TEACHERS, AND FEDERAL RETIREMENT INCOME IS TAXED AS AN EQUAL.
    This is about those with the clout not even bothering to see what we would like to see done.
    If you who are in the day to day trenches with me say we needed this tax and WE agree, no problem, but I, for one am absolutely incensed over the arbitrary ignoring of our collective voice.
    Please support any ground swell of public outrage. We can’t allow ourselves to be ignored repeatedly.

    J.
    Springfield, Oregon

    • eagle eye

      J. — How many make five figure income? As in $10,000 or more per year? Even an Oregon minimum wage job pays well over $10,000/yr. Who are you hanging out with, a bunch of dumpster divers?

  • Jason Williams

    Yes, Jack Roberts.
    You are correct about the other hearings. I apologize for not mentioning them.

    I have empathy for the county’s struggle, and the tax is only part of it. My main focus of the article is how they enacted the tax. On the heels of a defeated tax and the spoken electorate the county needs to proceed with the trust and partnership with taxpayers. The county could have referred a measure to voters in a special election. The county could have sent voters multiple resolutions giving them a choice in which tax to choose. If not that, the county could have put a time limit on the tax like Multnomah County as a way of handling the crisis at hand and ensuring voters that the issue will be revisited for renewal, reform or revocation once things have settled. A sunset would help put strength behind the politicians’ promises and would help build confidence with taxpayers.

    Having the state expand timber harvesting is something that was proposed by former Democrat State Representative Al King during the recent recession. It would have been nice to see that great idea move forward. The County could have sent every commissioner, every sheriff, every local mayor and every city councilor to Salem for a day to press for such a plan. That would have shaken up the State Capitol, and at least shown Lane County taxpayers that a big effort was made to remedy a longstanding problem.

    The severity of the tax and the recent election meant the County needed to do better to move forward with the trust of the taxpayers. Taxpayers may seldom like a new tax, but they will respect their politicians when they themselves feel respected.

  • Crawdude’s spot-on, while we can debate the merits of Lane’s process or the alternative means of raising the necessary income, this is probably the beginning of a trend.

    I read an article on the 22nd at Salem-News.com relating how the President’s budget is likely to hit Oregon to the tune of $123 MM (not including the Timber payments). I wrote a brief post on it at rightOregon.org and immediately followed-up with a couple letters to my representatives. In writing these letters, I was trying to raise awareness to my rep’s (both D’s) that the Governor’s expansive budget needs to be examined in the light of the potential shortfall. So far I’ve been satisfied with neither response I’ve received, one was a very kind, “yes you are correct and we’re working on it” and the other sited the “rainy-day” fund as a remedy for this potential shortfall.

    I fear that the Lane experiment could very easily become the solution to the looming federal funds shortfall.

    geoffludt
    rightOregon.org

  • Keen Observer

    Roberts looks like he’s for tax increases. It’s the reason he isn’t Gov. Roberts. Folks figured him out long ago that he wasn’t a conservative republican.

    • eagle eye

      Oh, right, all those conservative Republicans have done so well at getting elected Governor!

  • Marvin McConoughey

    As a non-taxpayer in Lane County, I am yet threatened by the imposition of a new tax. If government-by-fiat becomes the norm, citizens in other counties are apt to find that taxes go up without voter approval. An old saying is that the power to tax is the power to destroy.

    • Loren Later

      We don’t have to put up with this. As one of 3 cheif petitioners we have started a referendum to put this tax on the ballot. If we are successful in gathering enough signatures (5,700) we will stop the tax from going into effect until it is voted on in September.

      Watch for a full page add in the Register Guard Thursday to find out where you can volunteer your time and sign the petition. Democracy only works if we the people are willing to get off our duffs and make something happen.

      Thanks,

  • Homer12

    Bless you Loren and your whole posse for what you are doing. You shouldn’t have to do it, but ya cant let them big guys ignore the voters. We are all in this together.

  • Freeflyer123

    Where can I get one of those “NO EUGENE CITY TAXES” sign to put in front of my house?

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