The Oregon Pioneer stands atop the State Capitol in Salem.

Of all the quirky elements of life in Oregon, perhaps nothing is as unique – and treasured – by residents of all political stripes than the Kicker income tax refund.

Passed by the legislature in 1979 and enshrined into the constitution by voters in 2000, the Kicker is a longstanding defense against politicians eager to spend, spend, spend. Whenever taxes come in 2% or higher above economists’ revenue forecasts, Oregonians are entitled to a full refund of their excess income tax payments.

This year’s Kicker refund clocked in at $5.62 billion, tripling the previous record set in 2022. Every taxpayer will see 44.28% of their total income tax payments returned to their pocketbooks. That’s an average refund of nearly a thousand dollars.

Oregon spends the 2nd most per capita of any U.S. state, second only to ultra-rural Alaska. But if not for the Kicker, it goes without saying that the legislature would have easily spent that $5.6 billion in taxpayer dollars on unproductive new government programs.

In fact, Governor Tina Kotek proposed a massive 26% budget increase last year, eyeing the Kicker as a way to pay for a bamboozling array of new projects. As House Speaker in 2019, Kotek introduced a bill to redirect half of that year’s Kicker into government coffers, mainly to fund a $245 million “Clean Diesel Engine Fund” and another $245 million subsidy package for electric vehicles.

Kotek’s demonstrated distaste for the Kicker refund continues to influence her policy from the governor’s mansion. Horrified at the prospect of losing such a huge chunk of tax dollars, Kotek and her Democrat allies in the legislature seriously considered several bills and constitutional amendments to undermine or outright repeal the Kicker. Thanks to hundreds of residents testifying against these proposals, the legislature was forced to shelve these proposals for another time – perhaps next year, when they no longer need to worry about reelection.

Although Oregonians kept their full Kicker in 2024, Governor Kotek and her friends are already cooking up a variety of new-and-improved schemes to swipe that money for themselves.

Jeff Gudman, who twice ran for Oregon state Treasurer as a Republican, is now running for that seat as a Democrat. In a wordy and misleading op-ed entitled “Reconsidering Oregon’s Kicker Law,” Gudman reveals that looting the Kicker is a vital element of his policy platform. According to Gudman: “By institutionalizing the kicker as a refund to taxpayers, the state has lost a great deal of otherwise prudent financial investment.” Taking the Kicker for government to spend instead, he asserts, “can be done without a Constitutional amendment” just as long as the Treasurer and state legislators have “the willingness to have the tough decisions.”

Oregon voters should ensure that Mr. Gudman loses his Treasurer bid for the third time in a row. But he is certainly not the only bad actor hoping to liberate the Kicker for his own purposes.

While Gudman extoled the merits of diverting tax dollars to new projects and programs, the Oregon Center for Public Policy went a step further and accused the Kicker of being racist. In reality, the Kicker is an inherently fair system that guarantees equal treatment of all individuals and families. In 2024, each taxpayer will receive a refund precisely equal to 44.28% of their income tax liability – no matter what they paid or how much they worked.

Other organizations publicly seeking to fundamentally alter or repeal the Kicker include government unions, such as the state SEIU; the D.C.-based Urban Institute; the Oregon Center for Public Policy; and the American Association of University Professors. With so much money escaping government coffers, it’s no wonder that so many groups are clamoring for a piece of the pie.

This November, Oregonians should elect candidates who promise to defend their wonderfully unique Kicker refund, while disavowing the incumbents who want it gone.