OregonPEN Best Invest List: Tax Fairness Oregon

 Our goal is to promote a tax code that is fair, progressive, serves the common good, and is fully enforced.

Since 2003, Tax Fairness Oregon has helped save the state budget hundreds of millions of dollars by working towards an equitable tax system.

In some cases that means killing tax breaks like the BETC, or winning changes to enterprise zones such as the Rural SIP. In other cases its means supporting bills that rein in wage theft (which also always means tax theft) or advance tax enforcement.

From helping to retain the Oregon Estate Tax to helping to pass Measures 66 and 67, Tax Fairness Oregon has been a critical force in state government.

Tax Fairness Oregon works to reform our tax code so that it serves the common good, not special interests.

We help shape the debate about tax policy in Oregon:

·       We work to reform Oregon’s tax code by monitoring and evaluating tax concepts.

·       We identify, research, and analyze critical bills.

·       We testify at legislative hearings and meet with legislators.

·       We bring public attention to tax issues through Facebook and eblasts, speakers, media outreach, workshops, and public relations.

·       We build coalitions with partner organizations.

We engage in legislative action, grassroots organizing, education, and coalition building to promote a revenue system that is more progressive, sustainable, and adequate.

Our History

Our Inception

It was New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston’s 2003 book, Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich And Cheat Everybody Else, that got Tax Fairness Oregon started. After reading a synopsis, we invited Johnston to speak in Portland. During his presentation we collected contact information for people who wanted to work on tax loophole and enforcement issues.

That group became Tax Fairness Oregon. Johnston has spoken in Oregon nine times, most recently in April of 2008. He has met informally with state legislators and other leaders. He provided some of the stimulus, not only for our group, but also for new tax enforcement legislation to close Oregon tax loopholes.
In 2016 the property tax discussion got realBecause of measures 5, 47 and 50, which were passed 20-25 years ago, Oregon’s property taxes are a mess. Unfairness reigns. Homes sold for the same $250,000 can pay as little as $1000 and as much as $4000 in property taxes. Increasingly, the costs of local property taxes have shifted from businesses to homeowners.

But finally, in the 2016 session, a bill was introduced to change property taxes without tying that change to a cut in capital gains tax or the introduction of a sales tax. SJR 201 was worth discussing, and we’ll be working with Senator Hass and others to improve on its basic ideas. Here’s our testimony on SJR 201.


2015 Legislative Agenda

Return the Rural SIP to Rural Oregon

The Strategic Investment Program, an enterprise zone-like program that reduces a business’ property taxes, exists in two versions, urban and rural. The rural program expects 75% less of a business both in investment and in taxes due, and was designed to draw major investments to rural Oregon. Recently, the Rural SIP has been wrongly, though legally, employed by urban communities, which have hundreds of industrial acres eligible for the Rural SIP. The fix returns the Rural SIP to Rural Oregon to work, and grow investments, as intended.


The original SIP legislation is now over 20 years old. The required tax payments have never been indexed for inflation. Further, K-12, Community Colleges and Education Service Districts are left out of the decision making, despite the fact that they lose their funding. The legislation puts them back in the decision-making process and assures that all local revenue collected from a business, be it as property taxes or as fees, is distributed the way local voters have voted that property taxes will be distributed.

Aviation Funding Fix

Unlike highways and roads, airports in Oregon have been relying on public funding rather than user funding for a hunk of the cost of maintenance and improvements. This public funding at the expense of education and human services isn’t necessary, because Oregon’s aviation fuel taxes are among the lowest in the country. While Oregon road users pay 30 cents a gallon in fuel taxes, Oregon taxes jet fuel at only 1 cent a gallon, and avgas at only 9 cents a gallon. Clearly a fix is in order.

Oregon Reforms

ConnectOregon funds multi-modal transportation projects. The legislation creates a ConnectOregon Infrastructure Bank that allows the state to continue to partner with local communities and businesses, without burdening the state’s future generations with debt. Other provisions increase transparency.

Gain Share’s Demise

Gain Share was a 2007 legislative mistake. The cost—based on returning to the counties half the income taxes of employees working at SIP properties—is projected at $95 m in 2015-17, unless the legislature acts now. This giveaway is not fair to the rest of the state.  Other communities have huge employers (the State, colleges, hospitals, theaters, and businesses in enterprise zones) who pay nothing in property taxes—yet they have never asked for GainShare. Washington County, on the other hand, does get property taxes from their SIP businesses, Intel and Genentech—$41 m last year.  And the state gave them $38 m in Gain Share revenue. This has to end, HB 2070 is the right bill. Learn more here.

Taxpayer Return on Investment Act-TRIA

Tax Fairness Oregon is a member of the Taxpayer Return on Investment Coalition which will have a revised Act proposed for the 2015 session. The goal of TRIA is to achieve transparency and accountability when state and local public agencies provide economic development assistance to private entities, and to build a rational relationship between benefits given to an entity and benefits received by the public. LC 1835 REVISIONS 2.1.15



  • Allowing increases in property tax outside compression as this decreases tax equity
  • Property tax reset on sale as this decreases tax equity
  • Kicker distributed per capita as this will make it harder to fix the kicker in the future
  • Increases in funding for ConnectOregon unless changed to predominantly a loan program


  • Capital Gains Haircut with funds to Rainy Day–Take the top off the extra high years, and put it into a rainy day fund so as to reduce volatility, increase savings, and reduce the likelihood of a kicker. Also Estate tax? (Read 2011 HB 2412, included reduction to CapGains)
  • IDA sunset
  • NMTC sunset
  • Sunsets: Child Care (OCPP), Rural Medical (Steiner Hayward/OCPP)
  • Pay for extending good tax credits by ending Grand Bargain breaks for business
  • Hair cut to itemized deductions in various forms to increase revenue
  • Retirement Security with tax credits
  • Increase tax rates for corporate and high income taxpayers to top Measure 66/67 levels
  • Cap the amount of deductible executive compensation

Tax Fairness Oregon Donations Link: