Rural communities all over Oregon are suffering from a lack of funds for public services. At the same time the timber industry is making record breaking profits. Something’s not right here. And those who are arguing about the court’s recent dismissal of the Linn County lawsuit know perfectly well what’s wrong because they’ll be the first to defend the inherent injustice of the suit.
That lawsuit was wrong headed from the start. Not only did it wrongly assume that the stewards of our state owned forests were tasked with extracting profit alone from the people’s forests, but it sought to take even more from the state’s residents rather than repair budget problems the proper way
– by taxing large corporations who are pillaging the private forestlands beyond sustainable limits.
Decades ago, when lumber prices and jobs were volatile due to multiple factors (not just owls, by the way), Wall Street investment firms swooped into buy up timberland, leading to extractive profit- only practices that led to loss of carbon sequestration, more fire prone drought,1oss of wildlife habitat and more poisons dumped into our forests and drinking water. Back then there were warnings from scientists and even a former investment officer from a large forest land investment company that investor driven forestry was ecologically damaging and less sustainable for our rural communities. When investors need big returns there’s little left to go around.
Industry lobbyists will adamantly insist that they do pay taxes, but these taxes are greatly reduced from what they should be. In the 90’s Republican representatives introduced a bill to eliminate the timber harvest tax – a tax still paid in neighboring states by the same companies that log here. The jobs, jobs, jobs” mantra doesn’t make sense when there are more forest sector jobs per acre in neighboring states and communities that are receiving more tax benefits from the same industry. And the property taxes paid by industrial timber owners here are a pittance compared to what residents pay. How would you feel about a tax rate of $4.60/acre? Guilty, perhaps? A lobbyist involved in pushing for eliminating the harvest tax defends himself and industry by saying that it didn’t cause counties to lose as much money because:
they simply shifted the tax burden to residents and small business owners. (!)
In reality, timber-dependent communities have lost billions over the past decades since the loss of this revenue. That would have gone a long way to relieve the financial pressures on public services like libraries, schools, etc. Please do vote to support your local community services. Our support is essential. But let your local and state officials hear from you that it’s beyond time to right the wrong of giving big timber a pass when it comes to paying their fair share. Let’s not sue our own state in a misguided effort to find funds – let’s bring back the harvest tax instead.