Tax Justice in Oregon

Just weeks after conservative Scott Brown was elected to replace Senator Ted Kennedy in a Massachusetts special election, and the Supreme Court squashed restrictions on corporate campaign contributions, the health care bill appeared dead. Pundits across the country warned of the end of the progressive agenda. Meanwhile in Oregon, hundreds of volunteers poured into union halls to collect the canvass materials to educate voters on tax fairness and the need to preserve social services. The result? Oregonians stood up to say that they valued social services and didn’t mind asking those who have weathered the storm of the recession to finally pay their fair share to keep them around.

Measures 66 & 67

In 2009 the Oregon state legislature increased taxes on the wealthiest Oregonians making more than $250,000 a year and increased the corporate minimum tax from $10 to $150 in order to help close the budget shortfall. The tax increases provided an estimated $727 million in revenue and prevented cuts to schools, health care, public safety programs, and countless other vital social services across the state. The legislature also passed its own version of sweeping health care reform. The session was praised by advocates as taking courageous steps toward a better future for all working Oregonians, and as an example to other states struggling with painful cuts brought on by the recession.

Later that year special interest groups claiming to represent small businesses organized vigorously to bring the tax increases to the voters. They claimed that the increases would kill economic and job growth in the state. Tax fairness advocates, who came from an immensely broad coalition, argued that it was about time that corporations pay their fair share, pointing out that the corporate minimum tax had not changed since 1931. They reminded voters that a time when more and more working families were tightening their belts and relying on assistance was not the time to start shortchanging children and community security. The ballots rolled in and voters approved both measures, making waves through the national press and showing the true feelings of American voters.

Lessons Learned

Legislative Leadership

With so many states facing tough budgets, the Oregon tax fight serves as a lesson that legislators looking to balance the budget should not feel threatened by finally restoring fairness in the tax system.

Voters Value Social Services

Voters value their children’s education; they care about affordable coverage; they care about the safety in their communities. And they will happily back up any plan that strengthens the security they value without breaking the family bank.

Take on Corporate Power

The general public will support tax increases even during a recession, as long as they are not put on the backs of those struggling to make ends meet. Voters understand that big banks and corporations are taking advantage of the system, and they want to restore fairness to the system. Talking a tough game on making the wealthiest pay their fair share will resonate with voters, not scare them away.

Working Together

The progressive community in Oregon came together in an unprecedented fashion for this campaign. When we pool our resources and work together to push a single message, we can fight and win against corporate-funded campaigns.

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