Wednesday, February 4, 2009
A word of warning before you read any further: this editorial contains two words that most Oregonians have historically loathed and found offensive.
We're referring to a state sales tax.
As Oregon grapples with a substantial budget crisis, it has become painfully clear that the state needs sweeping changes in its taxation system used to fund everything from education and health care to public safety and transportation. A state sales tax may be part of the solution.
We hinted on this subject last July, when there was talk that it may be time for Oregonians to consider implementing a sales tax. Several political leaders quietly bantered the idea, and there was discussion on the topic on political blogs on the Internet.
While we remain neither in favor or opposed to the idea of a state sales tax, we believe the time for a serious nonpartisan look at the issue and whether it could help secure a more stable revenue stream for our state is long overdo.
It's time for leaders in our State Legislature representing the two major political parties to step forward, not worry about how they will be publicly perceived for mentioning the term "sales tax," and lead an in-depth examination on whether such a plan could benefit Oregonians. We need to know what could be and would be taxed, at what rate, how much such a plan would raise, and how it could be implemented while eliminating one of our other forms of taxation.
Maybe we learn that a sales tax is the worst possible plan for fixing our funding woes and should not be considered. Maybe a current examination of the idea shows it would offer a long-term solution to providing the revenue stream needed to support programs in a responsible and not wasteful way. But we won't know the answer without thoroughly examining it.
One of the biggest reasons to listen to a sales tax plan is to capitalize on one of Oregon's biggest industries: tourism. The revenue stream that would be generated from a sales tax on visitors to our great state would be significant, much like neighboring states capitalize on Oregonians when we visit Washington, Idaho or California.
And while we're at it, the time to revise the state's minimum corporate tax rate should also be examined.
School districts across the state are facing funding shortfalls and the possibility of teacher layoffs. Higher education also is dealing with cuts. And state agencies have also been told to trim budgets in the wake of Oregon's economic outlook.
We posed this question in July, and we pose it again today: Is a sales tax a good idea for Oregonians? That's yet to be determined -- and maybe it's not. But the time has come for a discussion on the pros and cons of a sales tax in our state to determine if it would help alleviate our current unstable source of state funding.