Rep. Dennis Richardson: Taxes, Main Street Plan, more

By State Representative Dennis Richardson

Is Oregon a high taxing state? Since April 15th was tax day and remains fresh in our memories, this is a fitting question. The answer might surprise you.

Last week I was asked in an email why Oregon’s taxes seem to be so much higher than other states. In fact, Oregon’s taxes are lower than most other states. The reason is related to “streams of revenue.” Most states have sales taxes as their primary source of revenue. Since sales taxes are paid at the point-of-purchase, the total tax paid over the course of a year can be substantial. Since Oregon has no sales tax and Oregon’s primary revenue source is the income tax, taxpayers, when filling out their state income tax forms, get to see exactly what they are paying to the state of Oregon.

In other words, those living in states having both an income tax and a sales tax may see a lower number on their state income tax returns, but they fail to consider their point-of-purchase taxes which were spread over a year’s worth of sales tax payments on daily retail purchases.
The “Tax Freedom Day” is one way to compare and contrast total state taxation. The Tax Freedom Day represents how long Americans must work each year before they have earned enough money to pay the total of their Federal, state and local taxes.

For 2008, Oregon’s Tax Freedom Day was April 9th. To put this into perspective, the Tax Freedom Days for our neighboring states are as follows:
California, April 20;
Washington, April 16;
Nevada, April 8;
Utah, April 13; and
Idaho, April 12.
The national average is April 13.

Thus, the perception that Oregon is a high-tax state is not factual. Unfortunately, Oregon makes up for its low relative taxation with lottery proceeds, multiple fees, fines, penalties and debt. Nevertheless, having no sales tax saves Oregonians a great deal of money. For a detailed overview on how Oregon spends its revenues, read the first 10 pages of the Legislative Fiscal Office’s “Summary Analysis of the 2009-11 Governor’s Budget,” which is found here.

Preparing For A Peaceful Passing

In last week’s newsletter, “Honoring the Elderly”¦in Their Homes,” we discussed the fact that our oldest citizens usually desire to live and die in the familiar surroundings of their own homes. My focus was on Oregon Project Independence and DHS long-term care options and costs. Many emails have encouraged me to provide information on how to prepare for the challenges of end stage care and dying at home. To some this is a morbid subject; even so, it is an important one.

Last week I shared four dying-at-home stories from my own family. The story I did not tell is the current one. Although Cathy and I spend the weekdays in Salem while the legislature is in session, we are responsible for her 82 year old mother, Beverly Coyl. With the family’s help, Beverly is a “self-pay” resident living in the comfortable home of a kind and qualified caregiver in Central Point.

We take Beverly to church every Sunday. She sings the hymns, smiles at all the babies and greets everyone she meets. In actuality, she doesn’t know Cathy or me. Her long-term memory is gone, and her short term memory expires after about 10 seconds. Her dementia has been progressive. A couple of years ago, every movie Beverly saw had the “illusion of the first time.” Regardless of how frequently she may have seen the movie, since she did not remember it, she enjoyed it as if she had never seen it before. Those days are gone. Beverly can no longer discuss the good old days, when distant memories from the past were all she had left. Now, she cannot concentrate on anything and cannot follow even a simple movie storyline. In essence, although Beverly can still communicate, her spirit and her mind have checked out, while her body continues to function on auto-pilot. Nevertheless, we love her and respect her, and will continue to aid her as much as we can until she takes her last breath in her bedroom at home. Beverly is comfortable, well-cared for, and her final affairs are in order.

In the past week I have received several emails from readers who have shared their own stories of the bitter-sweet memories of serving loved-ones in the final months, days and hours of life. The common thread in all of the stories is that death is never easy, but it is certainly more peaceful when planned for in advance and occurs in a loved-one’s own bed, instead of the frantic atmosphere of a speeding ambulance or a bustling hospital Emergency Room.

If you or a loved-one agree with the idea that home is the desired location for earth-life’s inevitable finale, here are four principles of preparation you might find useful:

First, do not attempt to be the end stage caregiver without help. In each of our four end-of-life stories related last week, we could not have made it without support from our local Hospice workers. The kind, compassionate and loving Hospice volunteers and nurses gave us the encouragement, information and support we needed at every turn. They helped us set up for pain management medications. They held our hands and told us what to expect at each stage of dying. If a prognosis is terminal, do not wait too long before contacting Hospice workers. The general rule is Hospice can help when a person’s life-expectancy is less than six months. To learn more about Hospice care, click here.

Second, to avoid unwanted and expensive trips to the Emergency Room, a pink POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) Form can be completed, signed and taped to the refrigerator door in the kitchen. You can see a sample POLST Form here. If an ambulance is called, the EMT’s will see the form, read its instructions and act accordingly. A widow who wrote me yesterday told the story of when her husband was dying. She said when “Joe” started showing “very stressful signs,” she called an ambulance. When the EMT arrived, she gave him the POLST form. In her own words, she said:

“He then took time to make certain I was comfortable, and talked to me, then said, “˜You have saved me and yourself a lot of grief by being so prepared – I don’t have to spend time asking you questions, asking for decisions etc.’ I thanked him, and I thought, I could not have given any answers at that point in any event.”

In addition to a POLST form, a Durable Power of Attorney should be considered. A Durable Power of Attorney provides authority for a person’s chosen representative to handle his or her financial affairs, and remains valid even after the person becomes mentally incompetent. Cathy and I have these documents for each other. Years ago, when Beverly was still competent, she signed an Advance Directive and a Durable POA naming me as her representative.

Third, in addition to the POLST Form, an Advanced Directive should be considered. To learn more, read about these documents, click here. A downloadable Advance Directive Form can be found here.

Finally, spend time learning what information will be needed when a loved-one passes away. The Governor’s Commission on Senior Services and the Department of Human Services have prepared a booklet of information and questions that need answering. It can be found here. It mentions issues like knowing where important documents are located. Who should be notified after death occurs? Is there to be a funeral? Is there a will or trust? Where are key documents located? And many more questions that are best answered before a death occurs. As a simple word of advice and disclaimer, when there are questions on any of these forms or issues, and certainly when an estate is large enough that there might be tax implications, the best advice I can give is to visit an elder-care or estate planning attorney, or other qualified advisor. The time and money spent will give peace of mind and a knowledge that you and your loved-ones are prepared for that time when the process of dying dwarfs all other considerations.

In closing, after our adult children observed Cathy and I during my Mother’s and my sister’s final weeks, and after the deaths and funerals were completed, they had the maturity to ask us what arrangement we had made in the event of our untimely (or eventual) deaths. I was only 50 and Cathy even younger, so we were a little surprised by the question. We had wills, a trust, Advance Directives and Durable Power of Attorney documents, but we had not even considered funeral arrangements for ourselves. After discussing it, we decided our children were right. We should be the ones making our own end-of-life decisions. Cathy and I visited the cemetery where the remains of our four family members are buried, met with the undertaker, selected cemetery plots, coffins, etc. and signed the paperwork. For the next few years we made payments on the plots, coffins, services, etc. until they were all paid off. Although we do not plan on moving in for many years to come, the final arrangements have been “made and paid.” When we die, such decisions will not be additional burdens for loved ones to carry at such an emotional time.

Status of Oregon Main Street Plan

Oregonian columnist Elizabeth Hovde’s recent article, “More to Like About ‘Main Street’ Plan Than State Stimulus Effort,” was published Thursday April 16, 2009. It reminds us of the broken promises of the $175 million debt-based Oregon Stimulus Plan, and the potential of the proposed Oregon Main Street Plan. For a quick review of the Oregon Main Street Plan’s merits, see my YouTube explanation. Unfortunately, unless public pressure is felt immediately for passage of the Main Street Plan, it will languish and die in its House Committee. If you would like to encourage support for the Main Street Plan, your legislator’s contact information is listed below.

Portland’s April 15th Tea Party

It was an honor for me to address several thousand Oregon patriots who want their government back in the hands of the people and not the special interests that are driving policy at both the state and national levels. I was sent a link to an uploaded three minute portion of my speech. You can view it here.


Dennis Richardson
State Representative