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Historical Perspective Measure 67

I first started buying films, in the days before home video, because I loved history. Looking at the 20th Century is something that can be easily done. On the current ballot in Oregon is a citizen’s initiative: Measure 67. A tremendous number of op ed pieces have been written, pro and con. I am stunned that one perspective on the issue has not been addressed. Boiled down, those for the tax increase claim that the money is critically needed and it won’t hurt the average man financially. Those against the measure claim it would be a job killer with as many as 70,00 jobs going down the toilet and would start a stampede of businesses leaving the state. Various wrinkles have been added by various writers, but that’s the gist of it. The specific item in the measure that is raising the most ruckus is the 1500 percent hike on the minimum tax for C-corporations. That would be a raise from the current $10 minimum to a $150 minimum. In the fine print of some of the articles you might have seen that the current $10 minimum corporate tax was set over 75 years ago. What has been missing in these arguments is anyone taking an historical perspective. Just what was the situation 75 years ago when the $10. minimum was established? Just for argument, lets go back to January of 1934. Then, as now, a Democrat had been inaugurated as president less than a year earlier. One oddity is that back then Franklin Roosevelt had served a little over 9 months. President Obama has been in office almost a year. The 1933 Constitutional Amendment moved the inauguration up from March 4 to January 20. Oh, enough with Constitutional Amendment minutia. Most school kids, I really do hope, could tell you the Great Depression was in full swing at the time. What we will look at here is just what would ten bucks buy back then. For starters let’s fill up the car with gas. At a dime a gallon, and a ten gallon tank, you could fill it up ten times. Today you wouldn’t get a single fill-up. You’d be lucky to get 4 gallons. Let’s see, 4 gallons now, against 100 gallons then. Any school kid (here’s hoping), using simple arithmetic, arriving at a ratio of 25 to 1, could fairly raise the ten dollar minimum to $250. How about groceries? A loaf of bread in 1934 sold for 8 cents. Today the average price is $2.79. Using the same simple calculation the minimum tax could be raised to $350. Now let’s drive home and park in front of our new house. In 1934 the average price of a new house was $5,970. Last November in the US the average price was $279,000. From that we could raise the minimum to $460. Oh, I did mention we drove to the house. Back then a brand new Ford V8 sedan could be bought for $535. Right now I don’t think you can get an eight cylinder engine in any Ford sedan. You can get one in an F-150 pickup or a Mustang GT. For out comparison let’s look at the truck. The V8 150 is a mere $35,000. With our instant calculation we now have the minimum raised up to $650. Dispensing with how things cost, we now will look at what people earned. To cut this short we will look at just one wage earner: school teachers. Back then the average yearly pay was $1,227. Right now the median is just about fifty grand. Ah, we find that school teacher pay has grown at a slower rate than housing or autos. That would drop the minimum back down to $400. I It would seem from these examples, and believe me, there are many more, that raising it up to $150 is imminently justified. If anything, it is a very conservative raise. Just for comparison, the minimum in California is $800. Aha, you say! Back then it was the Great Depression. Things were different. Oh? If things were that tough we could assume the minimum was consequently set low. With that argument the logical result is that the rate of ten dollars should have been raised several times during the last 75 years. As you can see, just about everything else

A slightly different version of this was published by the Oregonian on line.

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