Capital Chatter: If you pay taxes, the state will keep paying you
Oregon's unique personal income-tax kicker — beloved by taxpayers, detested by some politicians and interest groups — is not going away. Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, sees no momentum toward eliminating the personal kicker.
"The kicker is pretty dramatic stuff, but we've been handing the kicker back quite regularly now. So it's part of life," he said.
Oregon's improved economy means the kicker "kicked" this year. Officials made the announcement Wednesday.
Oregonians who paid state personal income taxes in 2016 will get a rebate on their 2017 taxes. The average Oregon family, which has an annual income of $50,000 or so, will receive about $277, according to State Economist Mark McMullen. A typical family with about $34,000 annual income will get about $90.
The Oregon Legislature created the kicker in 1979 as an antidote to the tax revolts spreading north from California. It requires that surplus taxes be rebated when tax collections are at least 2 percent higher during the state's two-year budget period than originally were projected.
State Sen. Alan DeBoer, R-Ashland, and others have proposed that voters be asked to repeal the kicker, with the money instead being used for public schools. Even though the corporate tax kicker now goes for education, Courtney sees little prospect of Oregonians doing the same with the personal kicker.
"It's a part of how we govern now, whether you like it or not," he said.
Side notes: In delivering the quarterly state economic and revenue forecasts on Wednesday, McMullen made sure to wear a necktie that Courtney had given him several years ago. Courtney recently asked for the tie back, saying he'd never seen McMullen wear it. Courtney was kidding.
When I met with Courtney, he was wearing a T-shirt featuring Salem's new Peter Courtney Minto Island Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge. The bridge, which Courtney had envisioned as a city councilor in the previous century, is a delightful connection between Riverfront and Minto-Brown Island parks.
• Don't spend the extra money: Oregon's economy is doing better than most states', which means the Legislature could have more lottery and tax receipts to spend during 2017-19. But Sen. Courtney is wary of doing so — at least for current programs.
He said the money might be needed to pay for eclipse-related expenses, including reimbursing local governments for their additional public safety and other costs, or to cover this summer's higher-than-expected state costs for fighting wildfires.
• Oregon Lottery survives new casino: McMullen told me that the most encouraging aspect of the new revenue forecast was an increase in projected Oregon Lottery sales. The Cowlitz Indian Tribe's new casino near La Center, Wash., has made a smaller dent in the lottery than expected.
Lottery sales at Portland outlets just south of the Oregon-Washington border have taken a hit, but only one-fifth as much as expected. McMullen said the impact on the Spirit Mountain Casino in Grand Ronde also was less than feared.
• Oregon's solar eclipse goes to pot: Among states in the path of the total solar eclipse, Oregon was the only one with legal recreational marijuana. Consequently, Oregon economists predicted a boost in marijuana sales from eclipse visitors.
Overall, the eclipse was expected to be a mixed bag for the Oregon economy. Communities benefitted from an influx of visitors; but, like a big snowstorm, the event disrupted normal economic activity. Oregonians heeded warnings to stay off the roads to avoid congestion, and many businesses closed or reduced operations for Eclipse Day.
By midweek at the gift shop in the Oregon Capitol, only a few eclipse-themed water bottles, flying discs and pieces of jewelry were still available. T-shirts were long gone.
• The congestion finally came: Fearing congestion en route to Oregon during Eclipse Weekend, one motorist left Tacoma, Wash., about 3 a.m. With little traffic, he made it to Salem, where he camped in a city park, in well under three hours.
Afterward, however, friends of ours left Salem at 6:30 p.m. Monday and finally got home to Tacoma at 2:45 a.m.
Another friend, who stayed with us for the eclipse, was driving from Salem to her job in Newberg on Monday afternoon. While trying to get onto Highway 99W at Dayton, she moved about two miles in 2.5 hours.
• Tough times at the coast: Driving through Lincoln City on Friday evening, I saw a number of hotels with vacancies and signs offering "Drop-In Specials." There was no wait for a table at Mo's.
In fact, eclipse tourism was so light along the central coast that Depot Bay Mayor Barbara Leff distributed an "urgent message to eclipse lovers" on Saturday afternoon:
"The news is incorrect that it has rained here for the past three days. It has not. Our restaurants, hotels, shops and gas stations have stocked up, dressed up and filled up to welcome you.
"The central coast of Oregon — from Lincoln City through Newport — is ready for you to come out and enjoy our once-in- a-lifetime eclipse. Depoe Bay and our neighboring towns to the north and south beckon: The sun is shining. The whales are frolicking. The forecast for the next two mornings is clear. …"
• Oregon's constitution is in Massachusetts: The original Oregon Constitution is being restored in Massachusetts "so it won't continue to deteriorate," Secretary of State Dennis Richardson said.
More than $90,000 was raised through his "Constitutional Challenge" to restore the document, build two secure display cabinets, and purchase a portable cabinet for taking the constitution on tour.
• Not a candidate: No one should be surprised about Richardson's announcement that he's not running for governor in 2018, as he did in 2014 against John Kitzhaber.
After being elected secretary of state in 2016, Richardson said he had no intention of seeking other offices.
• As for the Secretary of State's Office … : Capitol visitors might have noticed construction around the Secretary of State's Office. I'm told it's for removal of asbestos flooring and painting.
State officials and Capitol employees certainly don't have deluxe accommodations. Many employees work in small, drab, windowless rooms.
Plus, there's a good chance the Capitol — with its stone and masonry walls — will collapse in The Big One.
• Update on a wannabe juror: In a recent newsletter, state Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, wrote about being called for jury duty: "As I write this I'm sitting in the Multnomah County Jury Assembly room. Yes, I'm beginning my two days of jury service. … I've been called to jury service two or three times since serving as a legislator and haven't made it all the way to a case yet. I have a dream of being called to a case where someone is accused of violating a law that I helped pass (or opposed) to see it play out in reality. But that's probably exactly why I'll never be selected."
This week I asked him how it went. His response: "Alas, I have nothing to report. During my two days there, my name was never called, so I never even had the chance to be disqualified. There were hundreds of jurors on deck, and only a handful of cases in the end (lots of pre-trial settlements?), so away I walked, weary from waiting, but untested."