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Who Says Public Opinion Makes Tax Increases Impossible?

Votes in Oregon show taxes popular when invested in public services. And when rich pay their share

A depressing view of America’s future smacked me in face recently as I read this New York Times’
analysis of the budget deficit , which concluded there’s no hope for major new federal initiatives on the home front for at least a decade. A high speed rail network? Nope. Relief for families going broke sending their kids to college? Unh uh. Restoration of lost spending for public services, anti-poverty campaigns, environmental initiatives, or other commons-based necessities. Sorry.

The soaring federal debt means the only way to find new money for the worthwhile initiatives that Obama promised us in 2008 would be to raise taxes or cut military spending, both impossible in the present political climate according to the Times. In other words, No We Can’t.

Is that really so? While Obama did not advocate big military cuts as a candidate, he did win on a platform of raising taxes for upper income Americans. These are the folks, he noted, who have done exceedingly well over the past three decades thanks to changes in the tax laws, so they are now in particularly good shape to help the rest of us a bit.

But while Washington pundits pronounce tax hikes impossible, the facts tell a different story. It’s been little noticed that Oregon voters approved two tax increases in a statewide referendum January 26, which raised $727 million for public education and social services by enacting higher tax rates on the wealthy. Measures 66 and 67 won despite vigorous opposition from rich business owners, led by Nike’s Phil Knight. The measures passed with 54 and 53 percent of the vote, with 61 percent voter turnout.

While predictably blue in presidential elections since the 1990s, Oregonians show a distinct populist streak that doomed several recent tax hike referendums. This endorsement of taxes is a sign that the national mood outside the D.C. beltway is shifting in favor of higher taxes earmarked for specific social programs, especially when it’s clear that the wealthiest Americans will pay their fair share.