Earlier this year in the leftist paradise of Oregon, a public hearing on bipartisan legislation was held regarding whether to provide additional exemption on Oregon’s estate tax. Oregon is only one of 18 states that have an estate tax, and second only to New York as the highest, with rates up to 16 percent. For those of you in Texas who have never heard of an estate tax, or “death tax,” our state government stretches out from beyond the grave and reaches into your decomposing pockets one last time.
The dwindling number of Republicans in Oregon know that Bill SB 1560 was a Band-Aid that did little to stand government entitlement bleeding. As desperate as the measure was, it’s commendable given the fact that real tax reform is impracticable in a state that has voted Democrat for more than 30 years.
The true goal of death taxes is twofold: it decreases generational privilege by punishing the children of successful citizens and bolsters a bloated Oregon Public Employee Retirement System (PERS). It’s like killing two birds with one stone; except we don’t kill birds in Oregon. Instead we extinguish entire segments of our economy to save them based on a faulty environmentalist theory. But I digress.
For all our wokeness, curbing privilege in Oregon is only a bonus. As is generally the case with Democrats, the true benefit of Oregon’s estate tax is about money and power. Oregon’s Democrats see a golden opportunity: if people thrive, they can steal the fruits of others’ success to bolster self-defeating social programs. It’s short-sighted to sabotage your own economy, but that’s becoming an American tradition.
Oregon’s Retirement System Is a Wreck
In 2018, The New York Times briefly drew national attention to Oregon’s PERS problem, revealing a broken system born from flawed financial decision-making. PERS was destined to fail because it promised its recipients the moon and the stars without a clue of how to pay for it. Neither did anyone account for behavioral economics or a free market.
Sound familiar? It should; it’s what Democrat social programs do best.
PERS is a particularly egregious case for many reasons. It originally promised retired workers 100 percent of their pre-retirement income for the rest of their lives. This was very slightly amended in 1995 to great outcry, but remained what most described as “overly generous.”
Already, thousands of Oregon public workers have retired, with even more thousands on the near horizon from the baby boom generation. Wage earners who work diligently through the years to establish a retirement account have no protection from the ups-and-downs of the market. PERS, on the other hand, is untouchable by the ravages of recession or poor investment.
The PERS system’s unfunded liability, the total amount promised for workers’ retirements that cannot be paid, finally reached a staggering $27 billion last year. There is absolutely no means by which Oregon taxpayers can pay this off, but this consensus does little to change the perceptions of workers who feel they are owed. Entitlement does funny things to people’s common sense.
What are the Oregon Democrats’ solution to this? They chose to kick the can down the road another 10 years to make it someone else’s problem long after they have retired and started to receive benefits.
Rob the Dead to Fund the Elites
The so-called “reform” changes nothing about the corrupt system. Instead, they aspire to make dead people who have profited from a lifetime of sound decision-making and periods of good economy pay a double share. In February, state economists gleefully forecasted that tax collections from dead people have risen considerably. The increasing number of deceased “ultra-rich” can prove useful in filling the PERS deficit gap.
News that people are dying to protect PERS is welcome to its recipients, especially considering the system allows retirees to manipulate a calculation method that enables them to make far more than 100 percent of their former salaries. Using other contractual “side-hustles,” public employees can exaggerate their pensions on account of the lavish way “final salaries” are calculated.
Take Mary Spilde, for example, the former head of Eugene’s local community college. After calculating her base salary of $227,551, unused sick and vacation, car allowance, and an additional contribution from the school, Mary will be receiving almost $320,000 a year for the rest of her life. On top of this, the community college will pay an addition $480,000 as a “retirement stipend.”
Spilde is not an isolated case. Mike Bellotti, University of Oregon’s former head football coach, gets a nice windfall for his time as a public employee. Once his base salary and Nike endorsements are calculated, Bellotti gets $41,000 a month for life. If he lives another 20 years, that will be a $10 million burden on Oregon taxpayers, where the median salary is less than $60,000.
The top PERS prize goes to Joe Robertson, the recently retired president of Oregon Health and Science University. At the end of every month, Oregonians cut ol’ Joe a check for more than $76,000, totaling $913,335 per year.
You Work, We Eat
Oregon lawmakers can’t raise taxes fast enough to keep up with an entitlement pension plan that dominates all other spending needs across the state. As with any leftist social program, this puts the burden of PERS on the same shoulders it always falls on: the middle class.
Oregon already has the second-highest tax rates in the country, with our middle class handing more than half their income to the government. Anyone with capital to invest faces heavy penalties that make investment toward growth a pointless endeavor. Most of the time it costs Oregonian’s more to invest in Oregon than to just hang on to it.
As a result, more than 240 municipalities across the state have been forced to make cuts to essential services such as maintaining roads and bridges, police and firefighter services, and reductions in school days and educational programs. These are difficult challenges for Oregon taxpayers to come to terms with when they see most of their hard-earned dollars squandered. Things will be even worse after the coronavirus shortfalls to state and local budgets come due.
Unfortunately, Oregonians have very few options. Some inheritors, such as farmer’s or rancher’s kids, who are unable to pay the estate tax due to a shortcoming of liquidatable assets, can take out a loan to pay the death tax to avoid selling the family farm. Or wealthy people can go die somewhere else.
Not surprisingly, that’s exactly what they are doing in droves. People who have already paid more than their share of a lifetime of taxes will not suffer an irresponsible state government to double dip once they have passed on.
Meanwhile, Oregon Democrats wait like vultures for rich people to hurry up and die, counting on the certainty of both death and taxes to pay for their struggling utopia. But while they eagerly anticipate the rich giving up the ghost, Oregonians are still free to choose where to die; and it’s increasingly unlikely it will be in the Beaver State.