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Do we have the courage to sustain the investments Oregonians need?

Commentary
April 19, 2021By Daniel Hauser

Congress has handed Oregon lawmakers $2.6 billion to prevent cuts to services Oregonians need most and invest in pandemic recovery efforts. With resources like these, Oregon can kick-start a vibrant, equitable economy where everyone can afford the necessities, like stable housing and care for their children and elders. As welcome as this federal help is, this is a one-time infusion of resources. We should not assume federal dollars of this size are likely to come around again anytime soon.

This means Oregon lawmakers must prepare now for future budget periods that won’t enjoy so much help from Congress. The federal package buys us time to improve our revenue system and ensure sustainable funding for Oregon’s ongoing needs. Lawmakers must exercise courage and do what needs to be done to maintain game-changing investments in our community: raise taxes on the rich and corporations.

The American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress in March, recognized that state budgets are in trouble — the pandemic increased people’s need for state services and simultaneously reduced revenues. The billions in Rescue Plan aid to states, Oregon included, must be spent by 2024. The majority of the resources should be spent quickly to help Oregonians struggling to survive this crisis.

The Oregon legislature’s budget writers released a budget framework showing how they would spend the federal infusion of money. Their framework puts half of the money ($1.3 billion) into sustaining existing services such as health care for low-income Oregonians, grants to help low-income students afford college, and early learning programs. It also invests up to $780 million into new services. These new investments should include those highlighted in the People’s Budget, such as expansions to programs that help people stay stably housed, help people afford child care, and put cash in the pockets of low-income families. These investments will improve the well-being of all Oregonians.

But how will the Oregon legislature pay for these services in the future? Without additional, ongoing revenue, Oregon will face a future funding gap for services paid for now with Rescue Plan dollars.

And how will Oregon lawmakers address the widespread economic insecurity that plagued Oregonians long before the pandemic battered our economy? More than four in ten Oregonians struggled to cover necessities such as rent and food prior to COVID-19. Racist public policies and discrimination, past and present, place even greater obstacles in the way of Black, Indigenous, and other Oregonians of color. But ultimately, economic insecurity weighs on all Oregonians. There may be no more important task for the Oregon legislature than ensuring that all Oregonians enjoy true economic opportunity and security.

The answer to these questions is simple: raise revenue from those most able to afford it, the rich and profitable corporations. Not only does Oregon need more resources to sustain lasting investments in our people, but our tax system is upside-down. As a share of income, no group pays less in total state and local taxes than the richest Oregonians.

Now is the time to raise taxes on the rich and the corporations that have been raking in billions of profits while paying little in taxes, to ensure we have the revenue we will need in the years to come. Now is the time to show that Oregonians suffering the most are the priority. Now is the time to invest in the lives of Black, Indigenous, and other Oregonians of color to ensure the well-being of all Oregonians.

Are Oregon’s leaders willing to show courage and do what this moment requires?