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Our mad crush on 4 Oregon public policies

Commentary
February 14, 2020By Audrey Mechling

Roses are red,
The Pacific Ocean is blue,
To the very best State,
Happy Birthday to you

Love is in the air — the fresh pine air of Oregon. This Valentine’s Day also happens to be Oregon’s 161st birthday. So, we are celebrating by sharing the things we love about this great state.

1. Oregon’s minimum wage makes our heart skip a beat

When Oregon raised the minimum wage it was love at first sight. In 2016, the Oregon legislature passed a minimum wage increase that, once fully phased in, will boost the pay for over 400,000 Oregonians. This policy is putting money in the pockets of hardworking Oregonians – and disproportionately benefitting women and people of color.

2. Oregon’s fully refundable EITC fills our hearts

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of the most effective tools for lifting families out of poverty. In Oregon, we have our own State version of this Federal tax credit, supplementing its poverty fighting effects. Oregon is among the many states that have a fully refundable EITC. This means that many low-income tax filers actually receive some or all of the value of their tax credit as a cash refund. The amounts provided by this refundable tax credit typically help families catch up on bills, purchase or repair a car, or invest in activities that enrich their children’s lives.

If Oregon took steps to remove barriers to participating in the EITC, extended the tax credit to currently excluded groups of workers, and boosted the amount of the credit, our love would be positively rapturous.

3. Soulmates: High earners and a top income tax bracket

Ten years ago, Oregon was struck by Cupid’s arrow, and fell in love with the idea of making Oregon’s revenue structure more adequate, equitable, and progressive by taxing top earners at higher rates. In January of 2010 our love-struck voters passed Measure 66, which created new tax brackets with increased rates for the highest income earners in Oregon. The revenue from this measure helped avoid deeper budget cuts to schools and vital services at a time when the state budget was hard hit after the recession. Despite dire predictions from deep-pocketed interests opposed to Measure 66, since its passage Oregon’s economy has flourished.

4. The key to our heart: taxing inherited wealth

Despite regular attacks on Oregon’s primary means of taxing inherited wealth, Oregon can be proud that it has retained the estate tax. The estate tax impacts the wealthiest Oregonians, who have over $1 million in their estate, after a long list of exemptions. The tax is one of the few tools available to specifically address the racial wealth gap, as 9 in 10 families who pay the estate tax nationally are white. Oregon is expected to raise $453 million in the current biennium from the estate tax, which is used to fund vital services for all Oregonians.

It bears noting that right now some lawmakers are trying to poison this love by weakening the estate tax. At a time of record wealth inequality, this is a betrayal of Oregon values.

As with anything we love, there is also always work to be done to improve upon our successes. But it’s good to remember that from our stunning landscapes to these progressive economic policies, there is a lot to love about Oregon.