A Ladder to the Moon

June 19, 2007By Chuck Sheketoff

Imagine for a moment that every one of the almost 8,000 Oregon residents entering the freshman class at one of Oregon’s universities this fall has their tuition and fees waived for the next four years. Now, imagine being able to do that for another 42,000 Oregonians!

Imagine the impact that a four-year tuition and fees waiver would have on improving opportunities for those 50,000 students and on strengthening our state’s economic future.

Providing this educational opportunity to 50,000 Oregon students would cost a lot of money, for sure, but the approximately $1.2 billion it would cost is available and would be well spent. It could be a public policy priority.

Instead of this imaginary future, Oregonians are going to get a one-time tax cut (the so-called kicker), with the typical taxpayer getting a check for about $300. The top one-out-of-five taxpayers will reap two-thirds of the tax cut and payments averaging about $2,200. The most fortunate – the top one percent of taxpayers with annual incomes averaging one million dollars – will garner 20 percent of the tax cut and their checks from the State will average over $14,000.

And Oregonians won’t even get to keep their full kicker refund. Those getting a kicker check will send about $225 million to Washington, D.C. in higher federal taxes.

The total cost to the state this fall – the State doesn’t have the cash in hand so it must borrow the money and pay $57 million in interest costs, plus it will cost $1 million for printing and mailing the checks – will be one billion two hundred twenty-three million dollars.

That’s such a big number I can’t comprehend what it means without some context. That’s why I compare it to the number of Oregonians we could send to college for free.

Another way to comprehend the kicker’s enormous size is to imagine it as a ladder. If a ladder had one billion two hundred twenty-three million steps, one step for each dollar spent on the kicker, it would be high enough to reach to the moon.

Now that’s a massively expensive tax cut.

Instead of giving 50,000 Oregonians the opportunity to attend college without tuition or fees, we are going to spend most of the money padding the bank accounts of economically well-off Oregonians.

A one-time, ladder-to-the-moon-sized tax cut that primarily flows to the well-to-do, or a ladder of opportunity tuition and fees-free higher education degree for 50,000 Oregonians. Is that really a difficult public policy choice?

Charles de Gaulle once said, “We may go to the moon, but that's not very far. The greatest distance we have to cover still lies within us.”

Oregon’s current public policy priorities show we have a long way to go.

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy, which does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues with the goal to improve decision making and generate more opportunities for all Oregonians.

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Listen to Thom Hartmann of KPOJ 620 AM, Portland's Air America station, interview OCPP Executive Director Chuck Sheketoff about this column. The interview starts 15 minutes and 15 seconds into the show and lasts for about 13 minutes. The live interview took place on Monday, June 25, 2007.

Learn more facts about the Oregon University System in the

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