New tax measures punish farmers


For the Capital Press

I have to respectfully disagree with Steve Robinson's editorial of Jan. 15. Small businesses are the seeds to the state's brighter future. A vibrant business sector is the single best way to fund public investments in K-12 schools and higher education, and has the added benefit of providing jobs that will later employ Oregon's graduates.

Unfortunately, Measures 66 and 67 continue to erode Oregon's delicate business climate. And when faced with the opportunity to work with Oregon business leaders to craft a comprehensive solution to Oregon's budget, legislative leadership instead used a temporary recession to pass an aggressive agenda that included permanent and retroactive taxes.

Robinson's assertion that the tax measures are innocuous because they do not impact all farmers is irresponsible. My family's farm is one of the C-corporations that will face a gross receipts tax in years where we don't make a profit. Our farm is not a Wall Street-based company like the ones referenced in the TV ads of our opponents. Our corporation's shareholders are myself, my brother and sister, and our spouses. We hold our shareholder meetings at our farmhouse's kitchen table just like other Oregon farmers.

I struggle to find the fairness in placing a tax on my family in the numerous years when we do not make a profit. Like all farmers, I operate a business that is high in volume with low margins. This fact coupled with disease, infestation, drought and unforeseen market conditions make operating a farm a very risky venture. In 2001 when our water was cut off and we struggled to stay afloat, I can't fathom how our farm could have paid taxes with no profits and nothing left in the bank.

Additionally, these measures also will impact farms that are not organized as corporations but are members of farm cooperatives. These entities are an important segment of Oregon agriculture. They provide farmers with a means to market their product via a local, farmer-owned business. Ideally, co-ops also provide farmers with added profits through the distribution of dividends.

If the measures pass, in unprofitable years, co-ops will be hit with the gross receipts tax, and in profitable years, they will pay a higher tax rate. These tax policies are going to negatively impact all of the farmer co-op members and, in many situations, create cases of double taxation.

With the cycles that we deal with, many farms are only profitable one out of three, or four, or five years. Farm families depend on those few profitable years to support them through the unprofitable ones. Under these measures, we'd get an additional wallop in those profitable years, and we'd even pay more taxes in those years we are not profitable.

As farmers, we live with the uncertainty of what Mother Nature will bring us and what crop prices will be every year. Usually, certainty is a good thing for a business. But Measures 66 and 67 are only certain to harm countless struggling farm and ranch families across Oregon.

If you care about the health and future of Oregon's farms and other small businesses, please join me in voting no on Measures 66 and 67.

Tracey Liskey raises cattle, hay, and flowers in Klamath Falls.

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