Legislature should give tax relief to working families

From the Statesman Journal on Saturday:

By Senator Ted Ferrioli

Senate Republicans have championed an agenda for February’s session that will make Oregon a better, stronger and safer place to live, work and play.

We have fought for things such as putting a state trooper on every Oregon highway every day of the week. We have championed excellence in the classroom by giving teachers the resources and standards they need to improve outcomes for Oregon’s children.

We are dedicated to leaving Salem in February with progress on each of those issues. But there seems to be a deafening silence about the most pressing issue of the day: the economy.

Little more than a glance at a newspaper business page will show that the nation’s economy is heading for troubled waters. Knowing that, it would be a mistake to come to Salem this February without a vigorous and well-designed plan for stimulating the economy. Decisive leadership in February to bolster Oregon jobs and families can shelter us from the tough times ahead.
Of course, the first and best defense against economic difficulties is a government that is small and efficient. We need to prioritize, root out waste and put money away for the difficult times instead of spending it all. Responsibility, accountability and discipline should be the watch words in Salem.

But the other piece of the economic puzzle is long-overdue tax relief for Oregon families. Today, someone making minimum wage in Oregon pays the exact same tax rate as someone earning $250,000 per year. That isn’t right.

Increasing the tax exemption so the working poor pay less is the right thing to do, and it will put our economy on a strong foundation to weather the coming storm.

Doubling the tax exemption will put $375 million back into Oregon’s economy and create 19,951 jobs across the state, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office. Those jobs would cut our unemployment rate in half and create incentives for out-of-state companies to relocate to Oregon.

Doubling the exemption would take a bite from the state’s budget, but I see that as an opportunity to cut out waste. The state government budget grew by 20 percent last year; I think there is room to cut.

Numbers only go so far proving why a change in the tax exemption is a good idea. Oregon families can make the argument far better. For a family of four earning $35,000 per year, doubling the tax exemption isn’t abstract; it is an extra $400. That is money that can go toward winter coats for the kids or a high school activity fee.

We would be shirking our duty if we left Salem without doing something to put our economy on solid ground in preparation for the coming storm. I think restoring accountability to government and enacting real tax relief do just that.