NEWS FROM STATE REPRESENTATIVE DAVID GOMBERG: Taxes, Spending & Rising Income

www.tillamookcountypioneer.net

By State Representative David Gomberg

I received a text recently from my accountant. He was in his office at seven in the morning. That’s not unusual. But it was also on a Saturday and that was unusual. Like many of you, he was working on taxes.

I had a professor in graduate school who described taxes as “the cost of a civilized society.” We all want good schools, good roads, good police and fire protection. And often we want much more, depending on our unique needs and circumstances.

One of my legislative colleagues once told me that he’d been visiting the coast and saw a lot more highway work being done here than in his district. “I’m not surprised,” I replied, “more of your constituents drive on my roads than my constituents drive on yours!”

Too often, people believe wasteful public spending tends to be money spent on someone else or someplace else.

My government professor would say we’re all in this together and all dependent on each other for our mutual success. We in western Oregon depend on the farmers of eastern Oregon for food just as they rely on our highways and ports for their economic success.

That’s why, with so many residents in our district old enough to not have kids in our schools, I’m so proud we consistently vote to support public education. We all have a stake in their success, whether we want to hire graduates to work in our businesses or to provide us with everything from lawn care to health care. As my old friend Governor Barbara Roberts once observed, we want to be graduating young people who are well educated, well prepared, and very, very grateful. Because soon enough, they will be taking care of us!

My finance professor had a slightly different perspective on public spending and I’m mindful of his lessons as well whenever I review state budgets and priorities. There are limited public dollars and we need to spend them wisely and well. A recent news story really brought this home as one observer opined, “We are a high-tax state with low services. Stuff’s not working.” Actually, he didn’t say “stuff”.

The legislature allocates tax dollars. The Secretary of State audits their use. The Governor administers executive agencies.

Too often of late we’ve seen challenges play out with unemployment and rent checks not arriving, programs like family leave behind schedule, computer systems failing. We’ve seen continuing challenges including the pandemic, wildfires, and drought.

There are forty people running for governor right now and with the May election, we will narrow that list to two or three. It is historically critical that we choose an executive who not only shares our vision and priorities for this diverse state, but who also demonstrates the administrative ability to make “stuff” work.

The deadline to file state and federal personal income tax returns is April 18. The Oregon Department of Revenue (DOR) estimates that it will receive over 2.2 million total returns this year.

More than 1.1 million Oregonians have already filed their state personal taxes. Of those 1.1 million taxpayers, more than 928,000 have received refunds, with other refunds still pending. A Where’s My Refund? tool is available on Revenue’s website for personal income tax filers now.

E-filing is the fastest way to get your tax refund. On average, taxpayers who e-file their returns and request their refund via direct deposit receive their refund sooner than those who file paper returns and request paper refund checks.

The DOR long provided free options to taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of $73,000 or less who didn’t want to pay to file electronically. Last year, nearly 70,000 Oregonians used one.

But Oregon quietly discontinued its most-used versions this year, leaving previously eligible Oregonians with no option to file for free online. That is nearly half of Oregon tax filers. The state cited a decision by Intuit, maker of market-dominating tax software TurboTax, to discontinue technical support for the free service. In-person and virtual tax assistance to anyone, free of charge, by groups like AARP remain available.

Oregon also offers a state Earned Income Credit (EITC) to help low- to moderate-income workers and families get a tax break. To qualify, you must obviously be working and owing taxes. Studies have consistently found that the EITC has substantial positive effects in inducing single parents to go to work.

All taxpayers will also receive a Kicker both this year and next.

The state Constitution requires that if revenue exceeds annual estimates, the extra funds must be returned to taxpayers in what we call the tax “kicker”. The policy refunds taxpayers whenever personal income tax revenues come in at least 2% above initial projections during a two-year budget cycle.

The latest quarterly revenue forecast for Oregon shows tax receipts are again exceeding expectations. That reflects, I believe, the strength and resilience of Oregon business and workers, and also the difficulty of accurately estimating tax revenue during these unpredictable times.

Taxpayers completing their forms this year will see the results of a $1.9 billion kicker for 2022 and another $1 billion next year. That translates into about $850 for an average taxpayer earning roughly $70,000 and $420 for workers earning $35-40,000. The kicker is based on income and if you are fortunate to earn over $200,000 a year, you can expect a credit of around $4,000. Top income earners will receive tens of thousands of dollars.

I don’t know too many people in that category and I’m hearing some interest in capping the kicker at around $1000 so most Oregonians get what they do now, everyone gets something, with the balance going to schools or reserves for those future years when the economy may not be as strong. Oregon is the only state in the country that, when times are good, sends nearly every dime of personal income taxes that exceeds the official prediction back to taxpayers rather than stockpile the money for bad times.

One reason we have more state revenue than expected is because we’re earning more. Oregon wages rose 17% since the pandemic started —and a state economist says they’ll keep rising. We have now recovered more than 4 in 5 of the jobs lost at the start of the pandemic.

In Oregon, unemployment is down to 4 percent, close to the national rate, and the lowest it’s been since the pandemic began. But job vacancies remain high – whether they are in restaurants or in schools or mental health clinics or behind the wheel of a police car — and more jobs continue to be added. For every seven people seeking work, 10 jobs are available. There are simply more jobs available than there are people actively looking for them, and in the short-term, that gap may continue to widen.

As wages rise, some families choose to have one parent remain at home rather than struggle with childcare that is hard to find and hard to afford. A historic number of job openings paired with rising wages and the rapid normalization of remote work have made it easier than ever for employees to switch jobs. And of course, many baby-boomers are retiring. That combination has led to extraordinary incentives dangled to potential hires, with signing bonuses in some cases as high as thousands of dollars.

State economists warn that the positive economic trajectory could be hampered in coming years not only by inflation, but also by an ongoing housing supply shortage and people slow to return to the workforce.

Most Oregonians are earning more and wages continue to rise. But too often, those increases are being absorbed by prices increases as inflation surges. Wage gains are not consistent across the state as you have often heard me argue. And too many Oregonians on fixed incomes will struggle to pay those higher prices for food, fuel, and services.

Wildfire survivors in North Lincoln County can receive trees, shrubs, and seeds to help with landscaping recovery from Landscaping with Love at their May Day event.

 

Recovery remains slow in my neighborhood and across the fire zone but every day, we see new construction, homes being delivered, and families return. I continue to be proud of the courage, mutual support, and resilience of our impacted communities.

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I saw an interesting article last week about a program that helps homeowners mitigate the risk of property damage during wildfires using defensible zones and fire resistant plants.

Enter your address into the Oregon Wildfire Risk Explorer tool to see wildfire risk reports based on your location. Lincoln County has a website devoted to their wildfire mitigation planning here, and Benton County’s is here. If you happen to live elsewhere in the state, your county likely has a similar plan in place. Visit this Oregon Department of Forestry website to find yours.

More planning and support for homeowners will be developed as a result of a massive wildfire bill that the legislature passed last year. The Office of the State Fire Marshal, for example, held the first of what I expect will be several webinars about creating “defensible space” and protecting against fire damage, at the end of March. If you want to be connected to other resources or information about wildfire readiness, let me know!

To get in touch with my legislative office, please e-mail Rep.DavidGomberg@oregonlegislature.gov

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For anyone who enjoys any of Oregon’s state parks or the coast, this is important.

You have until 5 p.m. Friday, April 15 to offer your opinion on new rules regulating drones at our state’s most cherished and iconic geographic sites. Under the proposal, recreational drone operators could launch their unmanned craft from anywhere in a state park that is not designated otherwise. And complicating the situation is the fact that Parks can only manage where drones are launched and not where they fly. That is the FAA’s jurisdiction.

 

I have written before about proposed rules to consider where drone pilots can take off and land at state parks and beaches. The problem is an increasing number of aircraft, impact on wildlife, and personal privacy.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is extending public comment on the proposed Oregon Administrative Rules. The deadline is now 5 p.m. on Friday, April 15.

You can submit written comments online, by email, or mail.

A full copy of the proposed amendments is available on the Proposed OPRD Rules web page.

A highlight this past week was visiting the Philomath Samaritan Awards recognizing first citizens, organizations, volunteers, and local businesses. I joined together with city and county leaders to honor those everyday heroes who step up to make a difference.
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Benton County commissioners Nancy Wyse and Pat Malone, Rep. Gomberg, Mayor Chas Jones and city councilor Catherine Biscoe. Not shown but attending were councilors Matt Lehman and David Low, Benton County Sheriff Jef Van Arsdall, and Commissioner Xan Augerot.
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Mayor Chas Jones, with First Citizen award recipients David Low (Senior First Citizen), Eric Niemann (First Citizen), Maeve Dempsey (Junior First Citizen) and Blaise Pindell (Future First Citizen). Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News.

Representative David GombergHouse District 10

In the coming week, I’ll join the statewide Small Business Development Advisory Council, tour Yaquina Bay, have breakfast with local mayors, attend a meeting of the Governor’s Commission on Senior Services, speak on a panel about the emerging Blue Economy, meet with Speaker Rayfield about policy priorities for the 2023 session, attend a series of wildfire, earthquake and tsunami Readiness Presentations, and listen in on local candidate forums hosted in Lincoln and Tillamook Counties.

These are busy but productive days and I urge you to make the best of them too.