Harry Esteve at the Oregonian:
Oregon voters bucked decades of anti-tax and anti-Salem sentiment Tuesday, raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy to prevent further erosion of public schools and other state services.
The tax measures passed easily, with late returns showing a 54 percent to 46 percent ratio. Measure 66 raises taxes on households with taxable income above $250,000, and Measure 67 sets higher minimum taxes on corporations and increases the tax rate on upper-level profits.
The results triggered waves of relief from educators and legislative leaders, who were facing an estimated $727 million shortfall in the current two-year budget if the measures failed.
“We’re absolutely ecstatic,” said Hanna Vandering, a physical education teacher from Beaverton and vice president of the statewide teachers union. “What Oregonians said today is they believe in public education and vital services.”
It’s understandable that policymakers would look to statewide elections to get a sense of the public’s mood. Last week, a narrow majority of Massachusetts voters chose a conservative senator, and the political establishment took that to mean the electorate is shifting to the right.
But if those results offered broader lessons about voters’ attitudes, maybe this week’s results in Oregon do, too.
Big Labor poured millions of rank-and-file members’ dues into a tax hike campaign in Oregon. It worked. The “wealthy” and the “evil corporations” will now be forced to bail out government schools and social services. Look for affected business owners to start Going Galt en masse.
The Oregonian reports on the gloating by public employee union brass and class warfare propagandists. You betcha the White House is paying attention. Paging Tea Party activists…
If you want an example of how the media plays into their simple narratives, you will note the difference between the way they’ve played the special elections.
For instance, in this year of alleged Republican insurgency, the Democrats have actually won three congressional seats. Did you know that? I doubt that most people do. And while I completely understand the focus on the Scott Brown race for the symbolism of the “Kennedy seat”, the reading of the electorate in Massachusetts as requiring a sharp turn to the right is not born out by polls there or, even more interestingly, by the election last night in Oregon, which also has an electorate of similar bent to Massachusetts.
They voted yesterday to raise taxes on the wealthy. And Oregon hasn’t voted to raise taxes since 1930. If that’s a turn to the right, then we are all teabaggers now.
This doesn’t fit with the mainstream media’s preferred storyline which has voter anger at Washington defined as a repudiation of liberalism. Indeed, today the gasbags are saying that in tonight’s State of the Union address, “Obama must” emulate Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and … repudiate liberalism. And yet, out in Oregon yesterday, a state that hasn’t voted to raise taxes since 1930, the people voted for an extremely progressive initiative.
One wonders what might happen if the president showed some courage and repudiated the village instead.
John J. Miller at The Corner:
Oregonians apparently didn’t get the memo: They’ve just voted to increase taxes on themselves.
Yesterday, Oregon voters ratified two tax increases, one on high earners, and another a revision of the state’s corporate income tax. This is their strategy for plugging an enormous budget gap, like the ones that have opened up in state budgets around the country.
Conservatives, predictably, say this heralds disaster for the state, as the rich and corporations flee. Liberals, predictably, view this as a victory. Which is it?
1) The fact that Clinton raised taxes, and then the economy recovered, is not proof that raising taxes has no effect on the economy. Most people thing that there is at least some dampening effect, which is especially problematic in a downturn.
2) Realistically, income tax response gets more elastic as the tax region gets smaller. Oregon borders two states with attractive migration possibilities. California’s taxes are no bargain–but Oregon’s relatively lower tax rates may have attracted wealthy individuals and businesses that will now find it not so attractive.
3) The Tax Foundation says that pre-tax, it was on the top ten list for business tax climate. That suggests that it has relatively more room to increase taxes than other states.
4) The business tax changes apparently include a gross receipts tax, which is really an awful tax, especially during a downturn. Companies which are actually losing money may still owe taxes, which could hasten their closure, and the evaporation of any jobs they provide.
5) Trying to close the gap with only taxes on high income makes state revenues very dependent on a very small group of people. Ask New York and California how that’s going.
Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:
The first observation is that direct democracy is an incredibly poor way to run a state. Oregon and California’s experiments in initiatives and referenda have done nothing more than reveal that their voters love services and hate taxes.
Imagine you’re an Oregonian on the day of a sales tax referendum vote. You wake up, go downstairs and flip through your credit card bills while you brew the coffee. You wake up your kids, remember that you forgot to pay the tutors last month, and drive them to their fine, but admittedly mediocre public school. Then you pull onto the highway to head to work. The engine light turns on, dammit. You reach the office, toil through Excel for three hours (you really ought to be paid more for this, you remind yourself) and at noon you pass the Subway where you usually buy a cheap sandwich to save money to vote on the sales tax. You remember that there’s a deep budget deficit and that something will to be done in a distant place called tomorrow. But tomorrow is tomorrow, and you need money for the credit cards, and the tutors, and the public school donations, and the engine, and the money you’re not making on the job — you need that money today. So you vote NO to all the tax increases and service cuts — as you always have and almost always will.
I’m not saying this guy is wrong or stupid. I’m saying this guy is why we need representatives to make tough budget decisions for us.
The second observation is that I think this vote has nothing to do with Left or Right. It has to do with money and anger. With double-digit unemployment, eight-digit Wall Street bonuses and thirteen-digit federal deficits, Americans are feeling inundated with a lot of numbers that tell a simple story: America’s workers have no money, America’s coffers have no money, but America’s rich people have a lot of money. Neither liberals nor conservatives have a monopoly on populism, and it seems to me that Obama needs to show America tonight that he feels the anger. If we’re lucky, we might even see it. It’s not entirely clear to me how the White House loses by taking on the banks more aggressively in the next few months to build back political mojo. Separate from whether or not it is good financial policy, a plan that says “I’m taxing the banks who created this mess and I’m funneling that money into jobs programs to help average Americans pay their mortgage” is pretty safe politics.
I can easily see many tea party goers becoming rabid tax-the-rich folks if the alternative is higher taxes on them. Let us not forget that just about a year ago many of the House of Representatives’ most conservative members voted to impose a 90 percent tax rate on bank bonuses. As I noted at the time, those supporting this confiscatory tax measure included Eric Canter, Peter Hoekstra and Paul Ryan.
I have foreseen this development for some years and feared that once our budgetary problems forced action that sharply higher tax rates on the rich, corporations and capital in general would be the inevitable consequence. That is why I have championed the value-added tax as a way of raising the revenue that will be raised one way or another, but in a way that exempts capital because it is a tax on consumption. In short, it is the most conservative way of raising revenue that we know of.
Thus it’s ironic that almost all of the opposition to a VAT comes from conservatives. Just the other day the right-wing Heritage Foundation published a blast against it that made no serious effort to address the real reasons for a VAT: taxes will be raised and all the alternatives to a VAT are worse from Heritage’s own point of view. It must be nice to live in a right wing dream world where deficits never lead to tax increases, only spending cuts (except on defense or Medicare, which the Republican National Committee has declared to be sacrosanct).
Ryan Avent at Free Exchange at The Economist