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The outlines of the tax overhaul that legislators have been working on continue to slowly come into focus, but we're weeks away from seeing the final details.

You'll recall that Gov. Kate Brown charged the Legislature with coming up with a new business tax that would generate an additional $2 billion per biennium, with the bulk of that money earmarked for K-12 education.

But she left the details to the Legislature. And so a legislative subcommittee facing that task has been holding sessions to hear pitches from various groups. Last week, the relatively new Coalition for the Common Good (an alliance of Oregon's largest public employee unions and some businesses) advocated for a gross receipts tax, one that would be calculated based on business sales. The potential problem there is that Oregon voters soundly defeated a gross receipts tax in 2016, when they trounced Measure 97.

It's true that lawmakers have many different ways to set up a gross receipts tax, but if the final proposal from legislators hews in that direction, it may have to contend with the ghost of Measure 97.

And, in general, the coalition representatives meeting with the subcommittee last week seemed interested primarily in how the money would be spent (to increase state spending on education) rather than the details of how the money would be raised. It's hard to blame the coalition for that: After all, that's essentially how Gov. Brown has approached the issue.

The coalition's representatives also urged the subcommittee not to pair any tax proposal with efforts to cut costs related to Oregon's Public Employees Retirement System, noting that previous attempts to do so proved fruitless. And that's correct, as far as it goes — but it fails to take into account the fact that school districts increasingly are groaning under the weight of increasing PERS premiums.

The subcommittee also has heard a somewhat different pitch from Oregon Business & Industry, the state's largest business group, which has proposed a business activity tax under which the state would tax businesses on their sales minus input. 

Subcommittee co-chair Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, a veteran of legislative tax battles, said that the committee isn't likely to fully adopt any specific proposal from any group; rather, he said, the committee will craft its own proposal. It will be interesting to see how that eventual proposal fares with the business groups that right now are expressing cautious support for at least some of these ideas. It also will be interesting to see how the proposal will affect the pocketbooks of ordinary Oregonians; after all, if a business can pass a tax through to a customer, it likely will do so. 

Finally, the entire tax-overhaul question hinges on whether Democrats can keep their legislative supermajorities in line. Democrats have the necessary three-fifths majorities to enact revenue increases without a single vote from a Republican. But it might not take much to pry away one or two Democrats from the party line, and that could doom any tax proposal. (mm) 

Winter driving

Reading about the plight of the hundreds of motorists stranded Monday on Interstate 5 south of Cottage Grove served as a reminder: It's still winter. That means if you're taking a road trip, you need to prepare as if you could get stuck between a pair of avalanches on Highway 20 near Santiam Pass — which, while unlikely, isn't completely out of the question.

So it's worth a moment to review these common-sense suggestions from the Oregon Department of Transportation: Make sure you have a full tank of gas. Turn on your headlights to increase your visibility (if snow has recently fallen, be sure to brush it off your headlights — we're still surprised at how many motorists forget about that). Slow down when approaching off-ramps, bridges and shady spots, where the snow often lingers longer.

And be prepared for delays. Make sure you have water, snacks and blankets on hand in the car. Toss in a deck of cards for good measure.

The Albany and Corvallis area didn't get hammered in Monday's storm the way that southwest Oregon did. But unseasonably chilly nights could make for icy roadways over the next few days, so we're not out of the woods yet. (mm)

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