Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Jackson Co. Tries Income Tax to Replace Timber Payments

Faced with no alternative but the highly unpalatable begging for money from a skeptical (at best) electorate, the elders of Jackson County are trying to come up with anything they can to cover as much as $23 million in lost timber county payments, which have forced a shutdown of the entire library system by April.

Rural Oregon's anticipation for such a bloody outcome in the halls of Congress led the county to first seek a 'parcel tax,' which according to this (ironically) Californian blog, failed miserably in November. A 1% income tax is the new idea, brought to residents by former Ashland mayor Cathy Shaw, fondly remembered by the townspeople as the person who brought them the food tax. (Hey Oregonian, click that link--now that's an active newspaper forum, eh?) Few of the pitchfork-waving internet minion in Jackson seem to realize exactly why this tax has become necessary, but for them the person sponsoring it and a beneficiary that just got a lot of money for renovations and new facilities is a bit much. The rhetoric is a little whacked at times--the charm of a public user's forum--but they're getting their message across: we'd rather shut the libraries than pay the tax.

And the angry mob has at least one valid point--what is the end date on this tax? What if this Congress restores the timber payments, which I actually think is fairly likely? The bill has the entire Oregon delegation behind it as far as I know, and with Blumenauer now on Ways and Means he should already be scheming on how to restore the payments under new PAYGO rules. I understand trying to get the libraries back open quickly without having to wait for the snail-paced federal government, but has anyone in Jackson asked our state's Democrats what the outlook is for getting the payments restored? Rep. DeFazio--should Jackson be even contemplating this step?

It's a big deal to set up the apparatus for collecting taxes. The whole thing might be over by the time the bill hits the ballot. What's the town's bond rating? Can you not take a loan out and promise repayment from any subsequent timber funding? I'm not averse to justifiable taxation, but some make more sense than others, and this one may be more trouble than it's worth. What are other creative solutions? How about one library branch open each week? Crazy schedule, but it's better than bupkus, isn't it?

The sad thing about the slice of public reaction shown in the Med-Trib is that few even seem to know or care why things are the way they are, and why they're being asked to think about sending in more money. That's the fault of the county, frankly; this is actually a fairly easy one as taxes go to explain to people: "the feds cut us off from timber subsidies, and we were using that money for libraries. We may not get it back. To make sure we don't lose it, this small tax, to end immediately if we get it back--which our Congressman says we may. OK?"