© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

The Relationship Between Business and Government

The coronavirus and the resulting shutdown continue to have devastating consequences for businesses and workers alike. An economy that had been growing at a healthy pace has literally come to a halt as storefronts remain shuttered worldwide.

Job creators are becoming increasingly anxious amid uncertainty as to when they can open their doors again. Some may never be able to. Many are still incurring expenses, even though their sources of revenue have dried up.

Having been a small business owner, I’m familiar with the struggles faced by our entrepreneurs. Throughout my years of public service, I always remembered the valuable perspective that I gained from that experience. That’s why I feel that it’s important for government at all levels to create policies that enable businesses to grow and thrive.

But far too often, politicians and bureaucrats take the approach that the needs of government must come first. They seem to forget that the revenues that fund their agencies come out of the pockets and paychecks of people who work for a living and those who employ them.

This current crisis highlights the differences between our leaders who understand how business works and those who do not. Those who do not understand are moving ahead with plans to increase tax burdens on employers, employees, property owners and anyone else who pays into government coffers. They’re already bemoaning the lost revenues that they were already counting on to grow government programs, hire more consultants and add to agency payrolls. I have experience in this area. When I first took office as a State Representative, the nation was reeling from a recession. The state’s budget was out of balance, and there were constant calls for tax increases.

As a member of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, I was tasked with figuring out the best way to balance that budget. And I’m proud to say that we got it done, by prioritizing key functions, and without raising taxes.

Despite the difficult circumstances we’re in right now, plans are underway to raise taxes on the residents of Oregon and Clackamas County. Those proposals were developed when the economy was surging. Now, with peoples’ livelihoods in the balance, and families struggling to make ends meet, those demands for higher taxes are unchanged.  

At the state level, businesses are going to be asked to pay the Corporate Activity Tax that was passed by the Legislature last year. That tax is applied to sales instead of profits, meaning that a business will have to pay it, even if it is losing money.

Also being proposed is a tax increase whose proceeds will go to Metro under the guise of providing services for the homeless. Much like the “affordable housing” measure that was passed in 2018, there is no guarantee that the funds will go towards their intended purpose or do anything to solve the problem. What it will do is give Metro more of your hard-earned dollars to grow its bureaucracy while producing little in the way of results.

I’m running for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners to represent all of the small business owners, families and workers who are the backbone of our economy. Their needs have been ignored for too long by those who would put government first, instead of encouraging our businesses to prosper and thrive.

Government Exists to Serve the People

It is clear by now that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic shutdown is going to hit people and businesses right in their pocketbooks. What can government do to ease the pain for the average family from economic ruin?

The generous unemployment benefits from the federal government will help in the short term, but there’s a higher picture to consider. Suspend the newly enacted taxes that were passed or considered by three levels of government.

Clackamas County residents are looking at having to pay several new taxes and fees being implemented by multiple layers of government. Despite the hardships being faced by many of our citizens, they can expect to give more of their hard-earned dollars to Clackamas County, Metro and the State of Oregon whether you are employed or not.

Clackamas County residents spoke loudly and clearly a few years back when they rejected an increased vehicle registration fee with 64 percent of the vote. Despite that, the current Board of County Commissioners and Chair Jim Bernard worked behind closed doors and without public input to increase the fee anyway.

Metro, a regional agency with a poor track record of effectively managing taxpayer dollars, is insisting that voters approve yet another tax in the upcoming May 19 election for homeless services. At this rate we all will be homeless. Tax increases are being shoved on us while businesses remain shut by government and residents have been told for weeks to stay in their homes.

Instead, plans were made to continue increasing taxes and growing and expanding state and local government. An entirely new tax was passed. The 2019 legislative session passed the Corporate Activities Tax (CAT), which assessed businesses based on their gross sales. It is coming due now.

But anyone who has ever run a business knows that some operate on very slim margins. That method of taxation doesn’t take into account the overhead that businesses have. Some have high volumes of sales with slim profit margins on each sale. Others have higher profits on smaller numbers of sales. But all of those businesses are treated the same under the CAT. The worst thing about the CAT is that it is applied regardless of whether a business is profitable. In short, a business can lose money and still owe the tax.

 During the last few years of economic expansion, the State of Oregon saw record revenues flowing into its coffers. For instance, money was not spent on new computers for filing of the sudden surge in unemployment claims. Nor was there much discussion over the past few legislative sessions of providing tax relief for businesses, individuals or families. A few years back, the federal government gave money to Oregon for computer upgrades. The money vanished where?

Meanwhile, Clackamas County ran up huge budget deficits for the preceding two years while record taxpayer revenues were gathered. Metro, likewise, laid off 40 percent of its workforce due to the closure of its public venues. And they still want to tax us.

Clackamas County, Metro and the State of Oregon exist to serve the taxpayers who fund their budgets, and not the other way around. All three of these entities should be working to make life easier for taxpayers and entrepreneurs, not more difficult. 

Unfortunately, the people who are elected to leadership positions in all three of those organizations are more worried about growing government than they are about protecting taxpayers.

As the next chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, I will help guide the county through this and any other crisis over the next few years with an approach based on customer service. There’s sane no reason that struggling businesses and families should be facing multiple additional layers of taxation right now. The right action to take would be to reduce the amount of taxes and fees they’re paying until we can fully recover from the effects of this pandemic.

Prudent Planning with Proper Priorities

After years of riding on the coattails of a booming national economy with low unemployment, the State of Oregon is now in a world of hurt.

The impact of the coronavirus and resulting forced government closures of business have caused a record number of unemployment claims to be filed. Because Oregon has no sales tax, it is highly reliant on property and income taxes. This means that the years of record revenue flowing into state coffers could dwindle to a mere trickle almost overnight.

Layoffs and furloughs began in the hospitality and leisure sectors, with restaurants and hotels being hit hard. Then they started happening in the manufacturing sector. The public sector hasn’t been immune to job losses, either, with Metro and the City of Portland both having to reduce their number of staff positions.

So when the state was collecting record revenues from taxpayers for the past few years, was there any kind of plan put in place for any eventual downtown in the economy? Sadly, it appears that there was not.

That’s unfortunate, because it’s important that government hold steady in times of crisis and emergency. Citizens look to their leaders to maintain continuity of service. Instead, we’re seeing state government fail to provide that safety net and security when the people of Oregon need it the most.

The federal government has even stepped in and has provided an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits. All of those newly unemployed workers should have been able to file their unemployment claims immediately to start receiving the benefits that they’ve been paying into. That would have made it easier for them to keep paying their bills and buying necessities like groceries.

Instead, those same workers are expressing widespread frustration. Many are unable to log in to state computer systems. Still others sit and wait on hold for long periods of time through telephone systems that are also outdated and inadequate to meet the surging demand.

While it’s true that most people could not have anticipated that a global pandemic would shut down large segments of the economy, prudent management practices still should have been in place to ensure that vulnerable citizens did not slip through the cracks. But, unfortunately, this was not done.

What were the government priorities that were deemed more important than taking care of the same people whose taxes fund these same systems that are now failing them? Well, Oregon’s political leaders decided that instead of taking care of vital business, they would pass record amounts of taxes on them and individuals to continue growing bureaucracy.

Rather than preparing us for a time of future uncertainty, our governor used her executive authority to use $5 million in state funds to implement cap and trade policies. That’s despite the fact that most of the counties in Oregon, representing around half of its population, opposed the same kind of bill when it was proposed in the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions.

If nothing else, the Timber Unity movement that grew from the governor’s actions, and the recent events following the coronavirus outbreak, highlight the importance of our timber and trucking industries.

We’ve seen what happens when store shelves go without essential paper products. Our political leaders shouldn’t be bullying the trucking industry into giving up money to grow state government programs. They we should be asking what they can do to make it easier for them to get their products to market.

I’m proud to say that my candidacy for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners is endorsed by Timber Unity. The support that I’m getting from business leaders and workers isn’t just due to the decades that I’ve been a champion for their various industries. It’s also because of my many years of management leadership in the private sector.

I intend to put that management experience to good use as the new chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, along with everything I learned as a former commissioner and two-term member of the Oregon House of Representatives. What’s becoming increasingly obvious is that our current leaders left us ill-prepared for the crisis we face and that our workers, families and businesses deserve better than what we’ve gotten from them thus far.

Saving for a Rainy Day Before It Starts Pouring

Everyone is aware of the immediate impacts of the coronavirus, with regular news reports on the numbers of infections, deaths, product shortages, closures and restrictions on peoples’ daily activities. But much less obvious are its short and long-term impacts on the economy, businesses, household finances and government budgets.

It’s always been my philosophy that government budgets should more closely resemble those of individual taxpayers. These basic principles include the belief that we need to live within our means, avoid incurring unnecessary debt and put money aside in good times in preparation for a rainy day.

All indications are that the politicians and bureaucrats currently running the State of Oregon and Clackamas County have ignored those principles. The price that will be paid as a result is staggering.

Because Oregon does not have a sales tax, the state relies heavily on an income tax. That is one of the reasons that the state is usually one of the first affected by national recessions and also one of the last to recover. It stands to reason that if people lose their jobs, they’re going to have a difficult time paying income taxes.

Local governments tend to be funded through property taxes. The constant pressure to increase those taxes and add layers of levies and bonds is a huge contributing factor to the high cost of housing in Oregon. This is despite the fact that the state’s voters passed a ballot measure in the 1990s to limit property tax increases.

The Great Recession that started in late 2008 should have taught important lessons about the need to budget prudently. But it would appear that officials in state and county government failed to learn those lessons, and instead kept assuming that record revenues would roll into their coffers uninterrupted.

These new realities are now becoming impossible to ignore.

This recent Oregonian article details a recent legislative hearing, in which the governor’s chief of staff told lawmakers they will need to be cautious about how they spend money because Oregon could be headed into a long and deep economic downtown.

That same legislative body passed some of the largest increases in the state’s history during its 2019 regular session, despite several consecutive years of record revenue. The current state budget stands at a whopping $83 billion. Divided by the state’s four million residents, that is over $20,000 per man, woman and child in Oregon.

At the local level, I’ve been sounding the alarm about Clackamas County’s deficit budget situation since August. The county has received $1.2 billion in revenues for its all funds budget, which is also a record. However, a culture of mismanagement and lack of prudent planning and proper prioritization have combined to produce an $8 million deficit.

What will Oregon state and Clackamas County officials do once the coronavirus impacts on their budgets become obvious? Will they take the proper steps to end wasteful spending? I seriously doubt it.

Some state lawmakers are always quick to blame the state’s lack of a sales tax for the fact that there never seems to be enough revenue to match their appetites for spending. The aforementioned article even quotes one lawmaker as decrying the federal tax cuts that have put more money in the pockets of families and business owners.

The current Clackamas County Board of Commissioners has expressed support for multiple other taxing and spending measures, including the costly construction of a new courthouse that is opposed by most of the county’s voters.

These troubling times and circumstances require common sense leadership. During my service in the Oregon House of Representatives, I helped balance the budget in the aftermath of a recession without raising taxes. Similarly, I left Clackamas County with a budget surplus in my four-year term as commissioner.

The politicians currently in charge chose to spend money freely during good economic times, instead of preparing for the eventual downturn that is now upon us. I’m running for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners because I think we need to get back on the right track, without balancing the budget on your back.

Nik Blosser, Governor Brown’s chief of staff, said lawmakers should be cautious in how they spend money from the state budget because Oregon could be headed into a long and deep economic downturn. The likely economic fallout from coronavirus related shutdowns across the country.

This action comes on the heels of some of the largest tax increases from the 2019 legislature in memory. The state budget is also one of the richest since statehood at $83 billion.
Lack of a sales tax and President Trump’s federal tax cuts were blamed by some lawmakers as the culprits.

mas County was in a $8 million deficit while revenues came in at a record $1.2 billion all-funds budget.

Nik Blosser, Governor Brown’s chief of staff, said lawmakers should be cautious in how they spend money from the state budget because Oregon could be headed into a long and deep economic downturn. The likely economic fallout from coronavirus related shutdowns across the country.

This action comes on the heels of some of the largest tax increases from the 2019 legislature in memory. The state budget is also one of the richest since statehood at $83 billion.
Lack of a sales tax and President Trump’s federal tax cuts were blamed by some lawmakers as the culprits.

Leadership in Times of Crisis

Now, more than ever, citizens need to know that their local governments and the officials in them have adequately prepared for any disasters that may arise. That is one of the many reasons why I became certified through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

When I served as Clackamas County Commissioner from 2013 to 2017, I realized that there was a lack of preparedness at the local level. That was especially troubling to me, given that the county has over 400,000 residents and covers over one million acres of land.

I wanted to do everything possible to ensure that Clackamas County residents could benefit from the best available knowledge and preparedness services. Something had to be done, and that’s why I volunteered to become FEMA certified.

Obviously, I didn’t know at the time that there would be an international outbreak of the Coronavirus years later. Much of the emergency and disaster preparedness that has taken place in Oregon is in anticipation of a major earthquake, as the region is well overdue for one.

But I think that regardless of the type of emergency that happens, people need to know that they can rely on government to continue functioning. Leadership becomes more important than ever, to ensure that citizens get the help they need and services are still provided.

My FEMA training and certification taught me what my leadership role would be in an emergency and how to listen to health authorities, law enforcement and transportation agencies to get daily life back to normal as quickly as possible for citizens.

The absolute most important obligation that government has in disaster situations is to provide for safety. Peoples’ lives and health can be protected by government agencies if they do an adequate job of planning ahead. As such, financial reserves, testing kits and education programs must be readily available.

Also critical is that the health care system be protected. This is best done by ensuring that health care professionals like doctors and nurses are able to do their jobs. It will become much more difficult to care for sick patients if those professionals end up quarantined.

Aside from the immediate emergency, there are other long-term ramifications that government officials must consider. One is the need to protect the economy. Financial markets need to be stable. Peoples’ livelihoods and the ability to earn paycheck must be maintained. When making decisions about how to respond to disaster situations, government agencies should consider the effects that their actions could potentially have on businesses. Ideally, those same agencies would have budgets that are in good health and include adequate reserve funds. Any prudently managed agency should plan ahead in good times and set funds aside in case anything goes wrong. Failure to do so is nothing more than an abdication of official duties.

In troubled times, people look to governments, and the people who run them, to maintain public confidence and instill trust.  Through my FEMA certification and training, I’ve learned the kinds of leadership skills that can help Clackamas County residents through any potential crisis.