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No time for tax cuts.

Byline: The Register-Guard

It's fourth down and 40 yards go, and the quarterback calls for a pitch to the tailback who is told to sprint toward his own goal line. When someone in the huddle asks the quarterback if he's lost his mind, he looks at them with clear-eyed certainty and declares: "Don't worry, the team needs a break - this will help us in the long run."

With leadership like that, two things are dead certain: This is a team that will lose. And this is a team that needs a new quarterback.

Late last month, the Republican-controlled Oregon House approved a bill that would slash state corporate taxes that already rank among the lowest in the West. Coupled with a sister bill enacted in 2001, House Bill 3183 would provide at least $71 million in tax cuts each biennium for the state's largest companies, such as Nike, Columbia Sportswear and Intel.

Let history record that Republican lawmakers voted for these tax cuts at the same time schools are being decimated by budget cuts, bridges are crumbling and forcing indefinite detours, and sick and elderly Oregonians are going without vital care. "The team needs a break," they explain. "It'll help us in the long run."

Supporters of the bill include Rep. Pat Farr, a newly minted Republican legislator from Eugene who surely must know better than to buy into the transparently foolish idea that more tax cuts are a good idea at a time when revenue shortfalls are the only growth industry going strong.

"This will help businesses make the decision to stay in Oregon," Farr says. "It sends a message that Oregon is open for business."

No, it sends the message that Oregon lawmakers are too cozy with lobbyists from corporations that can't get enough tax cuts to satisfy their craving. It also sends the message that some legislators are willing to put up with even higher reductions to senior services, public education, and care for the sick, disabled and mentally ill.

If this all sounds familiar, it's because Republicans in Congress have agreed to pass $350 billion in additional tax cuts - the White House wants more than twice that amount - that will primarily benefit the wealthy and corporations at the same time lawmakers are cutting spending on basics such as education and aid to the poor.

Such sorry leadership has trickled down to Oregon, and Republicans seem gung-ho on the plan, even though the state already has so many tax breaks that it now collects only about 55 cents for every potential dollar in income taxes. Even though there's no evidence that more breaks will attract new corporations to a state that that has decimated government services and a habitually underfunded state university system. Even though, as the recent departure of Sony and other companies amply illustrates, there is no guarantee that corporate tax cuts keep the large companies they benefit from leaving the state.

There is a time and place for tax cuts, which are not inherently wrong or bad. But this is neither the time nor place.

Instead, Farr and his fellow Republicans should take a hard look at another emerging plan that would do just the opposite - scale back some of the estimated 350 tax deductions, exemptions, credits and other breaks that now reduce the state income tax revenues by nearly $8 billion per biennium.

A report by the Oregon Revenue Coalition, which includes labor unions and advocates for schools and social services, recently reported that a selective reduction in state income tax breaks of 25 percent would yield $1.7 billion for the new budget. Ask shellshocked school administrators, court officials, law enforcement officers and social service and health care workers throughout the state what that money would mean to them - and to the Oregonians they serve.

In case Republican lawmakers haven't noticed, Oregon is in a budgetary death spiral. If they insist on passing these wrongheaded new corporate tax cuts, they should, at the very least, keep them revenue neutral by removing commensurate amounts in tax breaks.

Common sense - and sheer need - however, call for abandoning the ill-timed proposal for new tax cuts altogether. To return to the sports analogy, it's fourth and 40. Time to move the ball forward, not backward.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:GOP lawmakers should abandon legislation; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:May 5, 2003
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