• On Earth Day

    On the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, I remain as committed as ever to protecting our environment. A large part of that commitment means ensuring the United States is raising the bar for environmental rules around the world.

    As Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell mentioned last week, trade negotiations allow the United States to hold other countries accountable for common-sense environmental protections.

    The reality is, if you care about the environment, you care about trade. That’s why, last week, I introduced a series of trade bills that lock in stronger commitments on the environment in our trade agreements, directing the administration and future administrations to address illegal wildlife trafficking and a host of other environmental priorities from wetlands protection to marine pollution.

    The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act requires that those commitments be backed with the strongest enforcement tools, including the possibility of trade sanctions.

    The proposed Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, for the first time, directs that America’s trade agreements require trading partners to adopt and maintain core labor standards and environmental protections, and further directs that those commitments be backed by the strongest enforcement tools.  It includes a first ever directive on ensuring implementation of trade commitments that advance human rights. In addition, this TPA legislation states unequivocally that no trade agreement can override U.S. law without congressional approval.

    President Obama has said this bill is needed to deliver Trans Pacific Partnership, which the White House says will address illegal fishing and fishery subsidies that result in overfishing, deal with illegal trafficking in wildlife and illegal logging, and cut tariffs on environmental goods, including everything from solar panels to smog detectors.

    Specifically, the Trans Pacific Partnership will eliminate burdensome tariffs on all environmental goods, which range as high as 30% in TPP markets, and will address discrimination and market access restrictions facing U.S. environmental services providers. This would create new opportunities for Oregon manufacturers of environmental goods, such as Plasti-Fab in Tualatin, E1 in Bend and Met One in Grants Pass.

    Earth Day puts a much-needed spotlight on the vital need to protect our environment, and I will continue working on ways to ensure environmental protections remain paramount today and every other day of the year. 

  • 10 Ways the Tax System is Unfair to Middle-Class Americans

    On Tax Day, Ron calls for comprehensive tax reform that works for all Americans. Here are just ten ways the broken tax code hurts middle-class families:

    1. Unfair tax treatment of wage income vs. wealth

    Taxes on wealth, such as capital gains, are often subject to a lower tax rate than wages and salaries, which the vast majority of every day Oregonians rely on for most of their income. A fair tax system would narrow the disparity between tax rates on income from wealth and income from work

    2. The tax code is too complex. 

    Without access to expensive financial planners, many families aren’t event aware of the tax credits they could take advantage of hidden in the 74,608 page tax code.  Students from Oregon, like Eugene’s Amber Lee, miss out on tax breaks to help with the costs of higher education.

    3. It takes Americans far too much time to complete their taxes.  

    Everyone deserves their April back!  It shouldn’t take U.S. taxpayers 6.1 billion hours and $168 billion per year to file their taxes.

    4. Small, family businesses are forced to navigate confusing rules and requirements.  

    According to the National Small Business Association, 40% of small businesses reported spending more than 80 hours a year dealing with federal taxes in 2014. Businesses in Oregon and across the country should be using this time to grow their businesses, not figuring out their taxes.

    5. Upside-down retirement tax breaks. 

    Our tax code makes it harder for typical Americans to save for retirement as incentives for retirement saving benefit high-income families far more than middle- and low-income families.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, only 16% of retirement tax benefits go to the bottom 60% of U.S. households by income.

    6. Those who ask for help from the IRS often can’t even get it. 

    It’s middle and low-income Americans who cannot afford expensive accountants that rely on the IRS for tax help. Customer service has declined in recent years due to budget cuts, so much that calling the IRS is like shouting into a void. Only 4 in 10 U.S. taxpayers calling into the IRS for help can get through to a real person. IRS budget cuts have led to inadequate service meaning billions in taxpayer dollars go uncollected every year. Many well-off taxpayers know this and have little fear of getting audited.

    7. Scams, fraud and identity theft are on the rise

    According to the Federal Trade Commission the #1 complaint they receive is tax-related identity theft.   In 2013 43% of all identify theft complaints to the FCC were tax related, up from 15% in 2010.  

    8. The well-off are gaming the system through offshore tax avoidance. 

    Billions of dollars are being hidden in undisclosed off-shore accounts, leaving taxpayers and small business to foot the bill Last year alone the Treasury and state governments lost nearly $110 billion in tax revenues through offshore tax havens. 

    9. No basic standards for tax-return preparers. 

    Without basic standards, too many unaffiliated tax-return preparers are incompetent or even unethical, giving taxpayers incorrect advice and potentially depriving them of their refund – something that many Oregon families depend on. Senators Wyden and Cardin are fighting to set basic standards that tax-preparers must meetLearn more here.

    10. The tax code is filled with loopholes that encourage the use of complicated financial products to lower the tax burden on investments. 

    Earlier this year Senator Wyden released a report detailing a number of these strategies. Once identified, these loopholes must be sealed shut.

  • As Tax Day Nears, Give April Back To Oregonians

    With just days to go until the April 15 filing deadline for federal income taxes, Ron focused last week at several stops in Oregon on his solutions to improve the tax system and to stop fraudsters from preying on taxpayers.

    At the Hollywood Senior Center in Portland and at the Chetco Activity Center in Brookings before his Curry County town hall, Ron met with tax preparers helping seniors file their taxes. He heard from preparers how those seniors are targeted increasingly by scammers.

    It seems to me this is an emerging form of organized crime,” Ron said at the Hollywood Senior Center. “I especially worry about seniors falling victim to fake phone calls coming from racketeers who say they are from the IRS.”

    Ron also highlighted the need to provide greater simplicity and transparency in an overly complicated tax code, saying during television interviews in Eugene that “Oregonians should get their April back.”

    In Eugene, Ron spotlighted how he is working to eliminate tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. “I want to use those tax dollars we then save to reduce rates for small businesses here at home that are creating what I call ‘red, white and blue’ jobs,’’ Ron said.

    In Portland, Ron and Rep. Earl Blumenauer announced plans to make federal income taxes  equitable for small marijuana businesses in states like Oregon that have legalized medical marijuana and recreational marijuana use by adults.

    Both Oregon lawmakers said those businesses should be able to take the same deductions as any other legal business -- such as for hiring veterans or for rent -- in Oregon and other states where voters have chosen to legalize marijuana use.

    Our legislation would provide an overdue update to federal tax law, which has not caught up to the fact that it’s 2015 and Oregonians have voted both to legalize medical marijuana and to regulate marijuana for recreational use,” Ron said. “This is a question of standing up for the people of Oregon, and ensuring that the federal government respects the decision Oregonians have made at the ballot box.”