Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Minnis: Your $100 is More Important Than Our Schools

Like George Bush ordering the Good Ship Iraq to continue sailing into the Perfect Storm (hmmm, maybe it was George Clooney I was thinking of), Karen Minnis is ready to ride anti-tax militancy to her political vindication/suicide:
Oregonians voted overwhelmingly to put the kicker law in the state Constitution six years ago because they don't trust government. It was their way of ensuring some spending control by their elected leaders.

Thanks to voters, the state can spend your kicker only by either a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or a vote of the people themselves. I will honor voters' wishes and their previous votes against higher taxes on Measures 28 and 30, and strongly oppose any attempt by the state to keep the personal kicker.

The governor's comments and the like-minded editorials that followed are important because they highlight a basic philosophical divide. While some people are deeply frustrated that the kicker money must be returned to taxpayers, I agree with those who say that the kicker is their money and should be returned to them.

This is truly a Rovian strategy, in my opinion. Like trying to turn Iraq into a net positive for the election, Minnis is spearheading an Oregon Republican effort to convince voters that they're still the only ones to be trusted with the keys to the state treasury, while seriously fumbling those keys in the House.

I would love to see what evidence Minnis has, that indicates voting Yea on a giveback of taxes amounted to mistrust of government. It was sold as a rebate for good times, which would be antithetical to mistrust--why mistrust a government whose revenues were bulging? But it's the meme that matters: Republicans don't trust government, so everything that hinders government is a good thing in their eyes.

So we have mistrust, now let's throw in "higher taxes." Where are the higher taxes? According to Minnis, if you elect not to forgive legitimately owed taxes, you are "raising taxes." Of course, this is equivalent to when you get a raise: by making more money that is subject to taxation, you are raising your taxes on yourself, and thus you are bad, very bad. If you drive more and buy more gas, you are suffering a tax hike on gasoline. See, profligate driving is actually a liberal fault! It's a clever ploy, sort of like dressing up a tiered internet access system as "net neutrality."

We have a very smart readership, so forgive the brief explanation on why suspending the kicker is not a tax hike. First of all, you DO owe the money. Underforecasting revenue is no different at all than a salesman underestimating yearly commissions. If you have a better year than expected and make more, do you give the money back to your customers? Or more relevantly, do you expect the IRS not to tax you on your additional income? It's not your money, no more than the rest of the money you send in as part of your tax obligation--so why pay any tax at all, under that argument?

That's all the kicker money is---additional, unforseen income. When did this become bad news to people? Hooray! We can go back to full school years with enough teachers for 20 kids per room and basic stuff like music and PE and full day kindergarten. We can put more than one guy on State Patrol duty for the Oregon coast. We can get poor kids regularly vaccinated on the Oregon Health Plan. Hooray for us! We worked hard, and now we can tend to ourselves and take care of some overdue business. Because don't kid yourselves people, by no stretch of the imagination do current budget levels represent met needs in even the most basic and crucial areas of state responsibility.

She admits people hate the kicker, but says it's because it works. Well, DUH. It works to the tune of siphoning $2 billion in rebated personal revenue since 1983, one link in the chain of government funding destablization plans like Measure 5 and the kicker.

The basic kickback from an estimated $460 billion refund turns out to be around $100. Meanwhile, if you're in the top bracket, you can look forward to upwards of $5,000. And hey, did I mention that the feds will come take a bite from your hide once you get your kicker check, since you've received unforseen additional state "income?" Wonder who that will hit disproportionally hard?

But perhaps my favorite part of Minnis' full throttle command on keeping the kicker was her financial logic:
If the kicker money were not returned, state spending would increase at an unsustainable rate. Even with the kicker being returned to taxpayers, state government is projected to have $1.073 billion more to spend in 2007-09 than it did in 2005-07, thanks to our improving economy.
If I have this right, not returning the money means state spending will increase--but returning the money didn't keep $1 billion more from being spent. And beyond that, what kind of made-up reality suggests unsustainability? If the kicker money exists at all, that means revenues are rights. By definition, spending COULD increase at a sustainable rate, because it's being sustained by the presence of a kicker. At worst it would remain flat at some point when the kicker doesn't materialize at all. To which I wonder: so?

Finally, if she's so philosophically opposed to suspending the kicker as a rebuke of the voters' will...why is she dead silent on the question of the CORPORATE kicker? They passed that one, too.