As April 30 neared, business owner Dustin Caldwell faced a choice: whether or not to make his first quarterly payment under Oregon’s new “corporate activity tax” or CAT.
"Our estimated tax for this first quarter is about $1,500. And so, do I pay an employee or do I pay the tax?" asked Caldwell, who owns Old Dominion Collision Repair Center in Eugene. He's laid off four workers and watched business plummet as drivers stay off the roads.
Thursday's deadline marks the first collection under the state's new business tax, a hard-fought program meant to boost education funding by roughly $1 billion a year. That calculation was pre-pandemic, though. Now schools, students and businesses are all hurting.
Hundreds of businesses and dozens of trade groups have urged Gov. Kate Brown to delay implementation of the gross receipts tax, without success. Brittany Quick-Warner, head of the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce, said more than 400 companies signed onto a letter to the governor asking just that.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of companies who maybe had a pretty good Q1 before our economy was essentially shut down,” she said. “And they’re going to have to be making estimated payments on that with very limited cashflow at this moment.”
Companies with $750,000 in Oregon-based revenue must register with the state. Companies with more than $1 million in revenue, after deductions, may owe the tax. Businesses are basing their estimates on prior years’ income, since many have no idea what the coming months might bring or if they'll owe tax at all.
At a recent video conference with businesspeople around the state, Brown acknowledged the economic pain inflicted by the coronavirus crisis. But she also pointed to the profound impact of shuttered schools on Oregon children.
“The investments we make now in our schools, via the Student Success Act, will help our state’s children recover and get us back on track for the future of Oregon,” she said.
The governor did direct one late-breaking change to how the tax is collected.
On Monday, the state revenue department exempted companies who expect smaller tax bills from paying estimated taxes this year. Instead, businesses that anticipate owing less than $10,000 for 2020 can pay it all in April 2021. The prior threshold was $5,000. The revenue department also said that businesses having trouble calculating or paying quarterly taxes won't be penalized, provided they document how COVID-19 has hurt their business.
That was good news to Caldwell at the collision repair shop in Eugene. He learned about the change from this reporter, the day before estimated taxes were due.
He had decided not to pay this quarter, anyway. He had other uses for that $1,500.