Taxpayers likely to get state kicker refund

The Legislature has $20 million extra to play with, but State Rep. Lane Shetterly of Polk County said not much has really changed.

SALEM -- The Legislature has $20 million extra to play with, but State Rep. Lane Shetterly of Polk County said not much has really changed.

Legislators got the word from the Office of Economic Analysis May 14 that income taxes and lottery profits are up while corporate taxes are down. The result is that extra $20 million.

"I think that the bottom line is that yesterday's news didn't change the end-of-session strategy," said Shetterly, who chairs the House Revenue Committee.

In a $12 billion budget, $20 million is small change, he said. "The difference is nill. It leaves everything still in play."

It still leaves the Legislature $600 million short of keeping state services at current levels.

However, Shetterly said, more money is better than less money. "It's not going to plug up any holes in the budget but it's not going to create any holes either."

By the time the $20 million is divided up between agencies and programs screaming for more money, he said, the number won't seem so large.

"The pieces themselves get to be pretty small," he said.

"In the next two weeks, commitments are going to be made. You get to the end of the session and little things start to matter. That money can be the thing that helps us put together a budget and get out of the building."

Shetterly suspects the Legislature may end up with even more money -- courtesy of the federal government. President Bush's federal income tax cuts will lower the subtractions people can make against their Oregon returns.

People may be paying less to the feds, but they will be paying more to the state. They may be paying less taxes in general, Shetterly said, but Oregon could get another $20 million.

Oregonians could also be getting rebate checks in the mail come November. "The chances are still strong that the kicker -- or a substantial portion of the kicker -- will be given back to taxpayers."

Estimates for personal income tax refunds were released May 14 from the state Office of Economic Analysis, and they indicate a range from $42 for the lowest-income household to $375 for households iwth adjusted gross incomes between $60,000 and $100,000. Households with earnings between $30,000 and $40,000 would average refunds of $145. Those with incomes between $40,000 and $60,000 could expect $220.

The amounts won't be nailed down until Sept. 1, two months after the budget period of 1999-2001 has ended.

If the kicker does become a reality for individuals, they can expect 8.39 percent of their state tax liability for 2000.

Estimates reveal that about two-thirds of the projected $355.1 million in excess personal income taxes would be credited to the top 20 percent of Oregon households with adjusted gross incomes of more thant $55,000. The top 10 percent of households (more than $70,000) would get about half of the total amount. That's according to the nonprofit Oregon Center on Public Policy, which conducted an analysis of the state report.

The center says $7 is the average refund taxpayers who make less than $8,000 can expect. They make up the lowest fifth of Oregon households.

Any credit to businesses will likely be credited to next year's tax bill.

But before people start figuring a refund into their back to school or home improvement budgets, Shetterly urged a wait and see attitude. He said it is still way too early to say anything with certainty.

"The news May 14 was the bell that sounds at the start of the final lap. This is the end game that will be developing in crystal clarity in the next two or three weeks."


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