As states around the country face budget crises, “deficit peacocks” continue to demand cutting social spending while ruling out tax increases on those who have benefited immensely from years of conservative policies. Oregon is one of the states that is faced with a budget crisis on the horizon. With a projected shortfall of $2.5 billion between 2009 and 2011, the state is on the verge of having to freeze salaries for public employees, end forest protection rules, and make deep cuts to education spending. Oregon’s deficit peacocks, of course, argued vigorously against considering any new taxes, arguing that harmful cuts to social spending were inevitable.
Oregon progressives, however, had a different idea. Pointing out that Oregon has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the nation — the corporate minimum income tax is a paltry $10 a year — and that Oregon’s wealthy have benefited enormously from years of conservative policies — they organized around two ballot initiatives, Measures 66 and 67, that would raise taxes on the upper-income tax bracket and corporations, which would protect $1 billion in services while not raising taxes on 97.5% of taxpayers and 93% of small business owners.
Corporate leaders formed front groups like Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes and flooded the airwaves with fear mongering ads about how small tax increases on the wealthiest Oregonians would harm the state. Unions, community organizations, and progressive businesses fought back with a grassroots campaign of their own in favor of the measures. Yesterday, Oregon’s voters went to the polls and “handily” passed both measures, marking the first time since 1930 Oregon voters had voted to increase taxes:
Backers of two Oregon tax increases say the easy victories Tuesday night are an indication of voter support for public services. Measure 66 will raise taxes on upper income households and Measure 67 will increase taxes on most businesses. Both measures passed by about 54-to-46 percent. [...]
The director of the Vote Yes campaign, Kevin Looper, says in the end, voters agreed. Kevin Looper: “This wasn’t about trying to soak the rich. This was about trying to protect the middle class. And it is the case that you have to ask those who can afford to, to pay a little more in order to do that. But these taxes were not a huge burden to be asking for those who can afford to, to cover. And I think most of them understood that.”
Following the passage of both measures, Oregon Republican Party Chairman Bob Tiernan was unable to cope with the fact that voters flatly rejected conservative free market fundamentalism, saying that the “success of a nationally-bankrolled campaign does not accurately reflect the views of all Oregonians. Voters across the state want their legislators to tighten their belts along with the rest of us.”
The truth is that Oregon is hardly alone when it comes to rejecting the right’s anti-tax philosophy. 29 states have “passed tax and fee increases totaling $24 billion this budget year, according to the National Governors Association, up from $1.5 billion a year earlier. ” Reflecting on the Oregon victory, Calitics notes, “What it also shows is that progressive policies, supported by smart progressive organizing led by folks such as former US Senate candidate Steve Novick and the Oregon Bus Project, which reached out to younger voters and had a strong ground game, can beat well-funded, well-organized corporate/teabagger alliances. ”
The Senate is currently considering its version of the upcoming jobs bill. The House’s version includes billions in support for cash-strapped states. The New York Times notes today that including aid to states in the Senate bill is essential because it is “among the surest ways to preserve and create jobs because the money is pushed through quickly to employees, contractors and beneficiaries. The alternative is recovery-killing spending cuts … on the state level.”