Here's a quick multiple-choice quiz to start the week.
Today's special session of the Oregon Legislature to ponder a tax break to some state businesses will be:
A. Quick and efficient, with the Democratic majority falling in line to back Gov. Kate Brown's proposal, and work wrapped up by the end of the day on Monday.
B. A bit of a train wreck, with considerable uncertainty surrounding basic questions such as whether the governor has the votes to pass her proposal.
C. The unofficial start of Oregon's general election campaign.
D. A small but real step toward meaningful tax reform in Oregon.
OK, pencils down. Although you never know for sure with Oregon's Legislature, our guess is that option "B" is somewhat more likely than option "A."
But there's no doubt about this: This special session will have plenty of political theater. So option "C" is a good answer.
And for those of you who checked option "D," the one about meaningful tax reform: Dream on.
Here's the background for today's session: Brown recently signed a tax measure, Senate Bill 1528, which was the subject of considerable partisan debate during this year’s legislative session.
In general, Oregon tax code is connected to its federal counterpart, so any federal tax reform is duplicated at the state level. Last year's federal tax reform included a provision allowing owners of so-called "pass-through" businesses (generally sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability corporations and S corporations) to deduct as much as 20 percent of their business income on federal tax returns.
Owners of those businesses in Oregon were in line to take the same deduction on their state returns. But the Legislature, without a single vote from a Republican, approved Senate Bill 1528, which breaks the connection between the federal tax reform and the state tax code on this particular provision.
The governor vacillated for a bit on whether to sign the bill, but she eventually did. The state winds up pocketing an additional $244 million in tax revenue, money that Brown said the state desperately needs. But as she announced her intention to sign the bill, she also said she would call a special session to consider a proposal to give a tax break to sole proprietorships, which had been left out of a previous tax break passed in 2013.
It's a clever gambit by Brown: By signing the bill, the state, which faces yet another budget shortfall next year (despite what will almost certainly be record revenue), collects millions to start filling the gap. Brown's tax proposal, which is estimated to cost the state about $11 million, doesn't make that budget hole much deeper.
And the governor gets to cast herself as a friend to Oregon's small businesses as she hits the re-election trail, although her GOP opponent, state Rep. Knute Buehler, might have a different take on that.
But Brown's proposal enters today's special session dogged by questions. First, an analysis of the proposal has suggested that her tax break wouldn't give relief to that many businesses: About 12,000 tax filers would qualify. It works out to just 4.3 percent of Oregon's sole proprietors.
And another analysis from the Legislative Revenue Office found that Brown's tax break would mostly benefit those sole proprietors earning at least $200,000 a year. Less than 10 percent of the estimated $11 million tax cut would go to sole proprietors earning less than $100,000 a year.
It seems unlikely that Brown's proposal will survive unscathed from the special session: Democrats were lining up last week with amendments. It also seems unlikely that Republicans will meekly go along with the governor's proposal, especially with Buehler heating up his campaign.
So back to our pop quiz: Points if you're anticipating political theater. But if you were hoping for even a small step toward the tax reform Oregon so desperately needs, today's special session seems destined to flunk. (mm)