Oregon is apparently the only state that gives money back to taxpayers when the economists who look into their crystal balls to estimate how much will be raised in tax revenues underestimate things.
In other words, when we have a good year and the state earns more money than it expects thanks to more job creation, better salaries, etc., they don't get to keep the money. Instead of investing in a rainy day fund, or putting more money toward the services that are desperately underfunded -- like public schools, higher education, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, funding our jails so they don't let criminals out just because they don't have enough beds -- they send the money back to the taxpayers.
The trigger is when revenues are more than 2 percent higher than the estimates the state based its budget on.
This year, a record $1.1 billion got sent back to taxpayers this month. But in addition to not using the money the way it should -- for state-funded services -- it actually cost the state more than $1 million just to do the check printing/processing and mailing of the refunds.
Lots of Oregonians think they're entitled to this money, and even passed a constitutional amendment making this something hard for the state to ever get rid of. People write into the Oregonian and other newspapers about how this is their money and they deserve to get it back. The average kicker was $600.
But it's not like the tax refunds you get when you overpay your taxes (usually from having too much money withheld from your paycheck). This is money that you were supposed to pay in taxes; it just so happens that every once in a while state economists underestimate tax revenues instead of overestimating them and legislators then having to cut programs midstream to avoid a deficit.
So there's a big push on to donate the kicker -- to public schools, to any charity. And I think that's a great idea. And I wish I could say we were going to do that too.
But we got $1200 back in our kicker, and that pays for an entire month of daycare, which we're really scrambling to figure out how we're going to fund in the new year now that we've exhausted the area of savings we've been applying toward daycare. (It was money we'd put aside in hopes of having a second child. That's no longer in the plans.)
I feel really guilty about it because I do think the money should go back to the state. But I'm sure we're not the only ones in Oregon who have urgent needs for the extra bit of cash that came in the mail in the past couple weeks.
I'm actually thinking about applying for SSDI in hopes that we'd get some help in paying for the daycare that doesn't look like it will be unneeded anytime soon. The rules I read on the Web say that you need to expect to be sick for at least 12 months to qualify, and well, depending on how you count, it's been at least six months and possibly nine months since I first got sick. And there's no end in sight.
Of course, I've also been reading in the Oregonian about how the vast majority (90 percent?) of initial applications are rejected, and about the same number of appeals. But if you can wait for the two- to three-year backlog until you get a hearing, your odds of receiving benefits are pretty good. So it's a thought. Even though it certainly wouldn't be a quick fix, and I'd probably also need to come up with money for a lawyer to help me through the process.
And of course there's the part of me that doesn't want to think I'd possibly still be sick by the time my hearing came around, so why bother starting the process?
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