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Changing the Kicker

Pete Springer/OPB

Say “kicker” in most places and you’re probably talking sports or subwoofers. (Or perhaps obscure computer jargon. Or the last story in a newscast, usually with a twist.) But in Oregon the kicker is an income tax refund, sent back to taxpayers when the tax revenue the state collects comes in at least two percent higher than was predicted.

For some people, it’s the best tool around to rein in government spending. For others, it’s an unfair quirk that just builds economic upheaval into Oregon.

A bill in Salem would change the kicker system so unpredicted revenue would first go into the state’s rainy day fund. Taxpayers would get refunds only if collections were six percent higher than projected — or if the rainy day fund were full.

The kicker history goes back three decades. The legislature created the kicker in 1979 as a tax credit. Voters approved it the following year. In 1995, then State Senator Gordon Smith led the change to make the kicker a refund, appearing as a check in the mail rather than a line on your tax return. In 2000 voters put the essential elements of the kicker in the Oregon Constitution (see Article IX, Section 14).

Corporations get a kicker too, though the rules differ slightly from those governing individual rebates. In 2007 the legislature suspended the corporate kicker to start a rainy day fund.

The state has sent out individual kicker checks eight times, including a major refund in 2007. Charities and retailers have benefited as people donated or spent their kickers in the past, and of course some people put their kickers in the bank. How have you spent your kicker? How would you be affected if the money went to stabilize the state budget instead?


  • Nathan Dahlin: Former office manager, currently unemployed. Saved his 2007 kicker check.
  • Jonathan Radmacher: Board member, Abernathy Elementary Foundation. Used his 2007 kicker to help start the foundation.
  • Ginny Burdick: Democratic State Senator representing District 18 (Southwest Portland) and Chair, Senate Finance and Revenue Committee.
  • Bruce Hanna: House Minority Leader and Republican Representative from District 7 (parts of Lane and Douglas Counties.)
  • Mark Henkels: Professor of Political Science/Public Policy and Administration at Western Oregon University. Co-editor of  Oregon Politics and Government, published in 2005.
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