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Residents of Eugene Should Defeat the City Income Tax on Principle, Not on a Legal Technicality!
By Scott Rohter, March 2011

"Our government keeps growing. It keeps getting bigger and bigger every year. It keeps gobbling up more of our money and our freedom. The only other thing that keeps growing all the time is called cancer. And just as cancer can destroy a body if left untreated, an out of control government will destroy a nation if it is not held in check."
-Scott Rohter

            It is not the job of the City of Eugene nor any city for that matter to fund public schools in Oregon, although some cities in other states have passed a City Income Tax for one reason or another. (More on that later) The source for public school funding in Oregon has traditionally been State income taxes and County property taxes, not withstanding anyone’s assertion to the contrary that public schools are their own taxing districts. That’s basically just splitting hairs and it’s a waste of time! The County and the State actually collect the taxes and then re-distribute the money back to the various school districts according to a pre-arranged formula. The school districts are only the recipients of that money.  They only request the money and receive the money. They don’t have any power to collect one dime from anyone! The authority to collect the taxes is vested in Lane County and in the State of Oregon, and the enforcement mechanism is the State Courts and the County Sheriff. If you don’t believe that, just try not paying the portion of your property taxes that goes to pay for public schools and see which representative from what government agency eventually shows up at your house. I guarantee you that it won’t be someone with a badge from the 4J School District knocking on your front door and summoning you to a court proceeding administered by your local School Board! So I don’t know why some divisive members of our community insist upon splitting hairs over just who or what is actually funding public education. It is obviously you and me through our County property taxes and through a portion of our State income taxes! (This year the Governor’s budget calls for $5.6 billion of State income taxes to be added to a portion of our County property taxes which will be allocated to fund public education in Oregon). But there is a principal far more important at stake here then splitting hairs over how schools are funded and we all should agree on uniting in order to to protect it!

            Just because we have a State Income Tax that doesn’t mean that we should also have a County Income Tax or a City Income Tax as well! The fact that we have one doesn’t justify the creation of the others! Government has become a juggernaut! And just because a portion of the State Income Tax goes to fund public schools, that doesn’t mean that there is a precedent for creating a City Income Tax to do exactly the same thing! In a recent discussion on this subject I stated that there was no precedent for any city in the United States to pass a tax based upon income. I was wrong! People pointed out to me that New York has a City Income Tax and Los Angeles has a City Income Tax. It is true. The fact is that there are some cities that have passed a City Income Tax of one kind or another. San Francisco has one, Denver has one, Aurora which is a city of over 300,000 people near Denver has one. As you head east there are even more cities that have passed an income tax. In Ohio, all of the major cities have levied some kind of an income tax; Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Akron all have City Income Taxes. All together there are 579 different cities in Ohio with some kind of City Income Tax. In Michigan there are 22 cities with an income tax. Missouri has two cities with an income tax; St. Louis and Kansas City. Indiana has some cities with an income tax and so does Pennsylvania. In fact the only Midwestern States that don’t have any cities with some type of a City Income Tax are Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, for reasons that will soon, become apparent. When I thought about this, I asked myself if there was a common denominator here. What is the single thread that connects all of this data? Is there a connection or isn’t there? The idea of a City Income Tax is a ‘progressive idea’ that probably originated in New York, the epicenter of ‘progressivism.’ New York City passed a City Income Tax in the 1970’s because they were bankrupt. But the idea of a City Income Tax found fertile ground in the cash strapped Midwest, the old industrial heartland of America. As the manufacturing base of our country disintegrated, and the ‘Midwest steel belt’ became the ‘rust belt’, the tax base that supported these Midwestern cities also collapsed! That is why 579 cities in Ohio and 22 cities in Michigan have passed a City Income Tax. The next stop for the City Income Tax juggernaut was the bankrupt city of Los Angeles and of course the progressive City of San Francisco. You can check these facts on taxfoundation.org.

            Now the idea of a City Income Tax is threatening to take hold right here in ‘progressive’ Eugene. And it is also the perfect storm, because not only is Eugene ‘progressive’ like New York and San Francisco but we are also strapped for cash like the Midwest! It is the perfect confluence of cause and ideology for the City of Eugene to come up with this idea for a City Income Tax. The reason that Lane County is cash strapped is not only because we have lost our manufacturing base, which was the wood products industry, with all of the lumber mills shutting down and timber processing moving elsewhere, but because for too long Lane County has depended on Federal revenues derived from the O & C timber lands, and the Federal Government keeps reducing the amount of those revenues paid to the O & C Counties. That is the real reason that Lane County is strapped for cash and the 4J School District is faced with tough choices (that along with the mishandling of the Public Employees Retirement System). But not to worry. Instead of the 4J school District cutting back on their spending, the City of Eugene will ride to the rescue with their own proposal to pass a ‘progressive’ City Income Tax to save us all!

            If the fact that the City of Eugene is trying to pass a City Income Tax, after we twice said no to a County Income Tax doesn’t shock you, then frankly I don’t know what else your local City Council could do that would shock you! It would be a horrible precedent for this idea of a City Income Tax, no matter how worthy or justifiable you think the purpose is, to take hold in Oregon, and frankly I’m not so sure that the need for more money to fund public schools is justifiable, because there is no budget drafted yet! There is nothing at all to look at to see what cost saving measures could be implemented. We don’t know what portion of the budget is being allocated for administrative positions, teaching positions, or janitorial positions! To say they need more money NOW before they have even drafted a budget, is like putting the cart before the horse! Multnomah County passed a three-year county wide income tax to fund public schools in 2003 and it was not renewed again in 2006, but don't count on that happening again here, if this tax ever gets implemented. The City of Springfield decided this year to make the necessary cuts in spending on schools instead of trying to exact more tax dollars from it’s already cash strapped residents. And there is no evidence to even prove that one more dollar spent on education will result in any corresponding improvement in academic achievement! Children aren’t going to learn more just because someone dangles more money in front of their teachers! Children aren’t motivated to learn by money. They barely even notice the lack of money unless it’s Friday night! And their teachers shouldn’t be motivated either, to do something that will put their pupil’s parents in the poorhouse!

            There is one overriding central issue at stake here. Do we continue to grow our government until it takes over every aspect of our daily lives and it threatens to put us all in the poorhouse, or do we begin to shrink our government at every level, to begin to reign it back in and get it back under control! This is the constant theme of my website Less Gov is the Best Gov.com. Government is growing way too big at every level! It is taking too much of our liberty and our hard earned money, and even if they are not adding one more position in government, their share of our personal and business income is still growing every year!

            I propose that Lane County should seriously consider the possibility of declaring bankruptcy! Certain other Counties have already done this across the country and they re-negotiated all of their contracts with the Public Employees Unions. When the money being spent is more then the revenue coming in you are basically broke no matter how much your revenues are! Our Federal Government has a vast supply of revenue yet they are continually spending more then they are taking in and so they are continually broke! They just print or borrow the difference. They are fourteen trillion dollars in debt! The rules of finance are no different if you are a County except that a County cannot print money! But a County is broke too if it is spending more money then it is taking in. It is o.k. to admit that we have a problem before our County’s bond rating drops, making it even harder for us to borrow. Bankruptcy may sound a little bit too radical for our 'go along to get along' County Commissioners, but we can’t do in Oregon on a statewide level what Madison, Wisconsin is doing because we don’t have a financially conservative Republican Governor in Salem. Nor do we have a Legislature that is controlled by Republicans. However we do have three so called fiscal conservatives on the County Board of Commissioners. If Lane County would declare bankruptcy, then we could re-negotiate The Public Employee’s Retirement System Contracts that are taking Lane County down a financial sink hole! If some people still want to split hairs over whether this County is broke or not, you can go right ahead, but from my perspective, if Lane County decides that they can’t afford to put a new roof on our wooden bridges in Vida and Dexter and repaint them, then they are as much as admitting that they are broke! Not withstanding the argument that the bridges are historical or that they are part of our public system of roads.

            When this country was founded, it was certainly the job of Congress to establish Post Roads, but of course back in those days there were no Western States, only Territories, and there was no other taxing authority in the Oregon Territory besides the US Congress. But after the creation of the State of Oregon and the establishment of various Cities and Counties, these other taxing authorities soon pitched in and contributed to the construction of their own local roads. Besides that fact, the Federal Government is broke today, even more broke then Lane County. They are fourteen trillion dollars in the red! It is irresponsible and unconscionable to add to our national debt one more penny in order to paint and re-roof our Goodpasture Covered Bridge and the covered bridge in Dexter. The fact that our County Board of Commissioners chose to do so, is as good an admission as any that Lane County is broke!

            That brings me to my last point. Should the tax payers of Lane County pay for Peter Sorenson and Rob Handy’s legal bills, resulting from their willful violations of Oregon’s Public Meetings Law? In two words, hell no! They’re guilty and we’re broke! Admitting that Lane County is broke is not an open invitation to increase our taxes, because the residents of Lane County are also broke! That’s the whole premise of the TEA Party Movement. We are taxed enough already! Admitting that the Lane County budget is maxed out is an opportunity to cut spending, and to set new priorities, not to raise our taxes. Since Sorensen and Handy are guilty of willfully violating the Open Meetings Law, we don’t have to pay their legal bills, and we shouldn’t! When they were breaking the law, they were not operating within the scope of their job description, no matter how hard they try to stretch the truth! We are not paying them to break the law! The situation stands as follows: Pete and Rob (funny that rhymes with cheat and rob) appealed Judge Gillespie’s decision and he refused to hear their appeal. Former Commissioner Dumdi’s attorneys filed a lawsuit for injunctive relief and the Judge is allowing her attorneys to craft new rules for Commissioners Sorenson and Handy to follow, detailing what they can and cannot do (since apparently they still don’t know). That’s cute, Peter Sorenson who has been in government at all levels for twenty years is being directed how to govern by a Coos County Circuit Judge. What we really need to do is to go back to a three member Board of Commissioners. See my article Should the Lane County Board of Commissioners be Downsized from Five Members to Three Members? It would be much easier to keep track of three County Commissioners then to keep track of five County Commissioners. If it ever got really difficult to keep track of them we could always outfit them all with electronic tracking devices similar to the ones that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife puts on cougars to monitor their whereabouts in the woods or even like the Department of Corrections puts on criminals. I’m not saying that we would ever need to do that, but you never can tell what might happen in the future especially with a couple of recalcitrant scofflaws like Peter Sorenson and Rob Handy who still won’t even admit that they did anything wrong!

            Finally, our bloated government is addicted to money, at every level! They have become like a junky, always in need of their next injection of cash, their next ‘money-fix.’  We often get too side tracked or bogged down over the fine details of why they claim that they need more money. In this case it is to keep the public schools open and to keep from shortening the number of school days in the calendar year. I support any effort to defeat this idea of a City Income Tax, but I would like to see it defeated once and for all, and I believe that we have a better chance of doing that if we defeat it at the polls on a matter of principle rather then on some mere legal technicality, otherwise the technicality will be corrected and the City of Eugene Income Tax will be right back on the next ballet to threaten us again! It will save us all a lot of time and trouble if we just take it on now, and get it over with. I would rather win this one permanently on principle by persuading the voters that this is a bad idea then winning it temporarily on a mere technicality!


"The truth, the political truth, and nothing but the political truth.
A journalist has no better friend than the truth."
- Scott Rohter

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