September 16th, 2009 | by HANK STERN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, Legislature

What John Kitzhaber Told the PBA About Taxes

225px-John_Kitzhaber

The looming ballot fight over permanent increases in Oregon's income tax for the wealthiest state residents — and in the minimum tax paid by Oregon corporations — was a big topic this morning when Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Kitzhaber appeared at a Portland Business Alliance forum.

The ex-governor was careful to begin his tax remarks by saying he was not going to back the effort to repeal those increases passed this year by the Democratic-controlled Legislature. He said a repeal would create a $733 million hole in the state budget.

But Kitzhaber, who announced two weeks ago he was running again for governor, dumped on a process that he said needlessly created the fight over permanent tax increases in the first place between business and labor unions that supported the increases. "I can't imagine how we got wrapped up around this axle," Kitzhaber said, crediting business for having been open to temporary increases. He also hinted that he was open to making the increases temporary as part of a broader budget discussion — if the increases should somehow survive the ballot.

His remarks on the tax increases drew polite applause from about one-third of the 300 or so people who came to the Governor Hotel for a moderated discussion between Kitzhaber and Kerry Tymchuk — former state director for ex-U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.).

During an audience question-and-answer period, PBA president and CEO Sandra McDonough pressed Kitzhaber a bit when she asked him what he would tell people who lost their job because a small business had to lay them off to pay the higher tax. Kitzhaber responded with his own question — whether a "Bill Sizemore-type response is really what we want to do," referring to the proposed repeal ballot question and the ultimate Democratic bogeyman even though Sizemore has not been involved in this effort. Kitzhaber went on to say that repealing the taxes would cost jobs as well with less taxpayer money to pay public-sector employees such as those working in universities.

Asked afterward if she was satisfied with Kitzhaber's remarks, McDonough noted that jobs in the public sector have already done much better in this down economy than in the private sector. She added that Kitzhaber was right when he said that business had been ready to discuss temporary increases but got shut out in the Legislature. "We never should have gotten to this point," she said.
 
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