OPINION M26-214: Reject tax for flawed preschool experiment
Multnomah County voters are weighing the pros and cons of Measure 26-214 that would substantially increase income taxes on earners making $125,000 and over to pay for "preschool" for all three- and four-year-olds in the county.
If passed, there will be an influx of parents moving to Multnomah County to take advantage of this "free" program driving up costs because of high demand. Don't believe me? We can look to other generous government programs as examples. Oregon's welfare benefits, more generous than most states, helped earned us a tie for No. 1 welfare state in the nation a few years ago. Our homeless benefits, more generous than other states, have earned us the No. 2 ranking for unsheltered homeless in the United States.
Just as predictable as people flocking to access free benefits and services, we can expect high earners who are more economically mobile to do what is in their best interest. Inevitably, many, many will move out of the county to avoid an additional 3.8% tax on income that would be added to the already high 9.9% state income tax rate they pay. This would make the Portland area one of the highest tax rates in the entire nation. Everyone should agree that you cannot simply spike income taxes to one the highest in the nation and not expect a serious behavior change among the people paying it. Many of these taxpayers will leave as they have done in similar high-tax areas across the nation.
This would leave remaining Multnomah County residents holding the tax bill with fewer high earning taxpayers and more services to fund.
Beyond the economic argument, we should ask if universal preschool is even a good idea?
Preschool expert Ron Haskins, who co-directs the Center on Children and Families at the left-leaning Brookings Institute, went as far as calling universal pre-K a "very bad idea.'"
And President Barack Obama's Department of Health and Human Services 2012 Head Start Impact Study, tracking 5,000 three- and four-year-olds, found "little to no impact."
If you look a little closer, the devil is in the details.
Many preschool programs are for three hours a day two to three times per week. The measure language states that the free program will offer up to six hours of school per day and up to four additional hours for before- and after-school care and full year options. This sounds more like a 10-hour-a-day, year-round, taxpayer-funded childcare program than a preschool program.
The measure goes on to describe "cost of living increases," "collective bargaining" and a "compensation matrix." Translation: rising annual costs equal regular tax increases.
If passed, this measure would fund an expensive new government program that will drive up the cost of living in the Portland metro area, creating an exodus of high-income earners which will lead to a destabilized county tax base. All for an expensive idea that studies show has minimal impact. Multnomah County voters should vote "no" on Measure 26-214.
Jason Williams is founder of Taxpayer Association of Oregon. He can be reached through OregonWatchdog.com.
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