A Bill To Hike Oregon Income Taxes Isn't What It Seems

Apr 13, 2017

Oregon lawmakers briefly considered a measure Thursday that would have hiked the income tax on wealthy Oregonians. But the bill may live to see another day.

House Revenue Committee Chair Phil Barnhart quickly ended a hearing on the bill that would have created a new, larger tax bracket for people earning more than $250,000 per year. The Democrat explained the bill was basically introduced to serve as a back-up plan in case talks over a corporate tax hike fail.

It comes as lawmakers consider ways to help the state bridge a $1.6 billion budget shortfall.

The move didn't surprise lobbyist Jody Wiser of a group called Tax Fairness Oregon.

"They're just filling time while real work is being done in the back rooms,” she said. “That's how things happen here.

After the meeting, Barnhart said he wasn't surprised that no one stepped forward to testify on the bill. "Nobody takes it seriously," he said. "But we need to figure something out."

In 2010, Oregon voters approved Measure 66. It created a higher income tax bracket for individual filers earning more than $125,000, or joint filers earning more than $250,000. The income tax measure before the House Revenue Committee would create a new tax rate of 13 percent for individuals earning more than $250,000 and joint filers earning more than $500,000.

The Legislative Revenue Office did not immediately provide an estimate on how much additional money the bill would raise for the state.

Wiser's group supported Measure 66, but she said the tax hike proposal now in front of lawmakers isn't the answer to the state's revenue shortfall. But she said even if the corporate tax discussions don't produce an agreement, she doesn't think this bill is going anywhere.

"I think if we can't get businesses to pay more taxes, we're unlikely to do this,” she said.

Tax increases require a three-fifths approval in both the Oregon House and Senate. Democrats don't have a large enough majority in either chamber to approve tax hikes without some Republican support.