I recently asked my LinkedIn network a thought provoking question. I asked: “When you attempt to solve problems, are you reacting to symptoms or addressing the root cause?”
Let’s put this question into a real life scenario. Say you have a new teenage driver in your household, driving a car you own. They have fallen into a driving style where they accelerate as quickly as possible when a light turns green, only to slam on their brakes up ahead at a red light. This style of driving leads to you having to service the brakes on your car well before the average life of brake pads. When you discover the root of the problem (your teenagers driving habits), do you continue to service the brakes more frequently than you should (addressing the symptom) or do you teach your teenager how to drive more prudently and tell them they will pay for any unnecessary brake service (addressing the root of the problem)? I am guessing you would do the latter.
Oregon has a special election this January where we will vote on proposed tax increases for some individuals (measure 66) as well as changes to the state tax code for most businesses (measure 67). I am voting “No” on both of these because, in part, I believe they treat the symptoms and fail to address the problem.
I am against both measures but I really despise measure 67, the tax increase aimed at businesses. Let’s review the facts and you’ll see why I am so adamantly opposed.
First, don’t believe the television ads that want you to think big corporations only pay the $10 minimum tax. If an Oregon corporation is profitable, it is paying substantial income taxes in Oregon. Nike, Les Schwab Tire Centers, Precision Cast Parts, Columbia Sportswear….these companies ARE NOT paying just the minimum. Companies paying the minimum are those that do not turn a profit. Your locally owned sandwich shop or dry cleaners may not have turned a profit in 2009. Many small businesses don’t. These businesses don’t pay an income tax but they are still paying things like a payroll tax and property tax. These businesses are essentially paying for the opportunity to run a business that is not yet profitable. Measure 67 will make they pay even more for this right.
In addition to increasing the minimum tax on unprofitable companies, measure 67 does more damage. It changes the tax code and taxes some businesses based on sales, not profits. It increases the profit tax on Oregon’s largest employers by 1.3 percentage points. It is retroactive back 13 months. It increases many business paperwork filing fees…some will be doubled; some will be more than tripled.
Do any of these changes address the root cause of the problem or do they simply address the symptoms? I believe that the real problem is Oregon spending money irresponsibly, often spending more than it has. The symptoms are state agencies running out of money sooner than they should and the inability to run in the inefficient ways they are used to.
I read a story today that is a great analogy of what the Oregon legislature is asking us to do. It was about a women that upgraded to a more expensive apartment and leased a new car. Four months later she couldn’t afford the payments and asked her boss for a raise so she could meet the financial obligations she created. She was fired on the spot (from 48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller).
Oregon voters are the boss and the legislature is the lady in over her head financially. Are we going to do what she asks or say no to her selfish demand?
I’ll close with one last anecdote. Recently I was debating these measures with another Oregon voter and he said something interesting. He stated something to the effect of “if the legislature would bring me (the voter) solutions to our problems without increasing taxes, I’d vote in favor of them.” I told him that he needs to tell his legislators to do just that. Something tells me that on January 26th he’ll mark “Yes” on his ballot for 66 & 67 but he won’t follow through with telling his legislators what he expects from them. Me, my “No” vote will be part of my message to Salem.