Let’s talk about the figure $3.4 billion. Why 3.4 billion? It’s no magical number. It’s also not how many beans are in the jar, or how much Mitt Romney spent on car elevators last year, or how many pecks of peppers Peter Piper picked.
It is, instead, a very real example of what we like to call “spending priorities.”
You see, $3.4 billion is the amount that tax breaks increased in Oregon since the last biennium. Not to be confused with the total amount of tax breaks that the state gives away each year, this is only the amount of additional dollars lost to tax giveaways since 2009.
After giving away $28 billion in tax breaks between 2009 – 2011, the Legislature allowed tax breaks to grow unchecked and even voted to increase tax breaks, amounting to a projected $31.4 billion in tax giveaways this biennium. This is a $3.4 billion increase in tax breaks all while state legislators were slashing school budgets, public safety, and human services.
Just “for fun,” let’s take a look at how our state would be faring right now if we had that extra $3.4 billion to spend…
Check it out:
An additional $3.4 billion (per biennium) would allow Oregon to increase spending where it matters by nearly 25%.**
That’s a lot of money! It’s actually pretty hard to conceptualize what that means for real Oregonians in real life. So let’s give it a try: What would $3.4 billion “buy back” for Oregonians?
It’s actually quite staggering:
- With the increased K12 funding, we could work to lowering classroom sizes back to adequate levels and re-open many of the K12 schools that were closed in the past two years– because the state could afford to hire 6,500 new teachers.
- Human services’ increased budget could prevent families from having to decide between buying groceries or heating their homes in the winter — by providing heat assistance to every low-income household in the state (which is about 30% of the state’s population.) Currently, Community Action agencies are able to provide heat assistance to about 1 in 5 homes that qualify for — and need — this assistance.
- The state could additionally help 2,000 seniors stay at home through Oregon Independence Project as well as assist 6,000 additional families with quality and affordable day so parents could continue to work to earn a paycheck.
- With the extra funds in public safety, Oregon could hire more than enough troopers to fill the gap between what is authorized and how many staff they can actually afford and still have plenty of funds left over to help out the counties that are struggling with their local enforcement budgets.
- At the higher ed level, Oregon could not only prevent the tuition increases anticipated through 2015, but could afford additionally to roll back the tuition increases of the past several years.
And, yes, even after all that “spending,” there’d still be funds left over for a rainy day fund.
An additional $3.4 billion in revenue is not a fantasy number — it represents real funds Oregon would have if the Legislature had maintained, rather than increased, our total tax expenditures. (Did you read that right? We’re not even imagining what our state would look like if our legislature rolled back tax breaks or increase tax rates — just that they had, you know, chosen not to give away more tax breaks.) But, alas, our Legislature’s spending priorities were to increase tax breaks and slash funding to the programs that matter. (In fact, the Legislature also permitted a scheduled tax break for wealthiest Oregonians to go through at the same time, further diminishing the state’s ability to fund imporrtant programs.)
Mad? Good. Me too.
** How’d we arrive at these numbers? We projected the ‘spending’ of the extra $3.4 billion revenue based on the proportional spending of actual General Fund dollars by the Legislature last session.