Many of Oregon's small towns are cash-strapped and struggling. Some blame this on a decline in revenue from logging, due to environmental protections. But despite conservation efforts, timber harvests on state and federal land have remained about the same for the past 25 years. So why aren't communities benefiting?
The answer is that timber companies have finagled outrageously preferential tax treatment for themselves, allowing them to wring money from our forests without putting much back into the communities where they operate.
In the 1990s, logging industry representatives successfully lobbied Oregon politicians to eliminate the severance tax. This tax was a major funding source for schools and local governments.
Washington state, California and Idaho still have this tax, and the money it generates helps fund schools, sheriff's offices and public libraries. The tax breaks we've doled out to timber companies have cost counties approximately $3 billion over the past 30 years.
Communities are suffering another blow, as logging practices contaminate their drinking water, damage their water systems and threaten their water sources altogether, leading to tax and water rate increases for residents and small businesses.
Some claim that bringing back the severance tax would lead to job losses. But the timber industry has been slashing jobs for decades, replacing workers with machines and closing mills to export logs overseas.
Why should Oregonians subsidize an industry that exploits our land and cripples our communities? It's time for lawmakers to put small towns ahead of corporate interests and reinstate the severance tax.