It’s the worst kept secret in Douglas County that our commissioners are corrupt. Too much Wall Street money flows into their campaign accounts to truly represent the sovereigns of Douglas County. For a fact, Lone Rock Timber, a donor of Tim Freeman’s campaign, is a joint venture with International Investment Partner, a wall-street firm. If we continue to elect the revolving door of career politicians, we will always have the same broken system. Free speech becomes eroded when the only voice allowed to be heard is that of the corporate donors, and any dissenting voice is labeled as “crazy.” Patriots know this is the slippery slope to tyranny. Young people have no faith in the two-party system because of this. We sense that all parties have sold out, that voting does nothing, and that we have no control over our future. If I sometimes sound angry, it’s because I am.
Most people don’t know that between 1990 and 1995, and 2007 to 2012, Oregon’s political leadership drastically changed property tax laws. In 1993, the legislature eliminated most harvest tax on cut timber. In 1996, ballot Measure 47 was passed by voters, changing property taxes. In response, the political leaders in Salem argued that Measure 47 was poorly written and it’s effect on local tax revenues was unknown. In steps, the timber industry crafted key provisions of ballot Measure 50 applying to forests. For example, the land valuation theory that growing timber is no different than growing agricultural crops. Therefore, the asset value of the forest should be removed from the asset value of the land for assessment purposes. Secondly, the notion that timber is special to Oregon’s economy such that the remaining land value then has a “special” value, which is set in Salem according to local site productivity, and then taxed on a 20-percent-of-value basis. Only the powerful timber industry could have argued for and received such special treatment. In a May 1997 special election, with only 42 percent of voters casting ballots, Ballot Measure 50 passed by 54 percent. Which means 23.4 percent of the electorate transformed Oregon’s forest taxation system.
Measure 50 froze local property tax rates into the constitution at 1996 levels. It further instructed the legislature to create a new property valuation system. In 1999, House Bill 3575 was passed to implement Measure 50. HB 3575 phased out all remaining harvest tax on big corporate forestlands, and as mentioned, implemented a new property valuation scheme. With the timber industry having secured the removal of forests’ value from assessment, and land assessed at 20 percent of real market value, the net effect is that timberland selling on the open market (land plus forest) is now assessed at less than 10 percent of it’s fair market sale value. Corporate timber’s payments to local governments in western Oregon decreased nearly 90 percent. Their taxes paid went from $120 million per year to $18 million per year. That is half a billion dollars lost every five years. This money used to pay for things like county libraries, roads, mental health and public safety.
Today, young people are struggling to survive and weary of workplaces that never let them forget that they are replaceable. The boom and busts of our timber economy create a poverty trap that is hard to escape. Many are turning to entrepreneurial pursuits, especially online, but still feel shut out of the decision-making processes at the government level.
At the League of Women Voters candidate forum, Tim Freeman joked that Douglas County’s biggest export was it’s young people. Young people want Wi-Fi, cell service in rural areas and increasingly, jobs in the cannabis industry. Jackson and Josephine Counties are getting 12.4 percent and 8.2 percent in recreational marijuana taxes, so it is likely that Douglas County would receive 10 percent or more if allowed. This would translate into $358,000 and pay for four deputy sheriffs. Adding a 3 percent sales tax to recreational sale in the rural incorporated areas and a business licensing fee of only $1000 each would add $175,000, bringing the potential revenue for the county up to about $750,000.
Oregon has the 45th lowest corporate taxes in the United States, and Douglas County has the 30th lowest per capita income of all 36 Oregon counties. When corporations do not pay their fair share of taxes to county social services, the individual taxpayer is increasingly taxed to death. With job growth in wood products failing, a third of our logs going directly overseas, and industry free-riding on taxes, the Oregon timber machine is broken. I hope that people realize with county financial insolvency comes state overtake. If Douglas County wants a thriving community with young families, new jobs, infrastructure, decreased homelessness and county supported libraries, it absolutely must diversify its economy and reinstate the timber severance tax on timberland harvests over 5,000 acres.