Challenger: Less government will solve problems

Sean C. Morgan

Bruce Cuff is one of four Republicans running for House District 17 in the May 20 primary election. Also running are incumbent Sherrie Sprenger of Lacomb, Linn County Commissioner Cliff Wooten of Scio and Marc Lucca of Stayton. The winner of the primary election will face Dan Thackaberry of Lebanon, who is running unopposed as a Democrat, in November. Primary ballots are scheduled to be mailed on May 2.

Of The New Era

When it comes to taxes, Bruce Cuff laughs and jokingly mimics the senior President Bush’s statement, “Read my lips.”

He isn’t just interested in holding the line on taxes, he wants to see them cut drastically to stimulate economic growth in Oregon, something he believes will increase revenues to state coffers.

It’s worked before, he said, and it can work in Oregon.

“My campaign is basically about limited government,” Cuff said, as well as improving public safety, rebuilding infrastructure and managing state lands effectively.

“When the state gets off track and we’re trying to be all things to all people, that’s when the state loses its way,” he said.

“Without public safety, without a good transportation system to get goods to the market, businesses are not interested in your state,” Cuff said.

To meet these goals, he talks tax cuts.

His goal is to decrease personal and business income taxes, Cuff said. “My goal is not only to leave more money in the hands of Oregonians so the economy is strong, to get government back to basics and businesses want to locate here.”

Tax incentives attract new businesses, Cuff said, and then when the tax breaks stop, the business heads out of state. He cites the example of the Sumco silicon wafer manufacturing plant that was enticed to Salem. It’s gone now.

Getting the Lowe’s Distribution Plant to locate in Lebanon was a good deal, he said, but when the tax breaks are gone and if Lowe’s decides to relocate, the area will have 500 people without jobs.

Over five biennia, 10 years, he wants to gradually reduce income tax rates for individuals and businesses, Cuff said, looking for cuts of 8 to 12 percent per biennium and 40 to 50 percent in 10 years.

In that period, he proposes reducing the state’s low personal income tax rate from 5 percent to 0 percent and the regular rate from 9 percent to 4.5 percent. He would like to decrease the business income tax from 6.6 percent to 4 percent.

He wants to draw livable base wages to Oregon, Cuff said. The popular notion of a tourism-based industry is a minimum-wage economy.

Cuff proposes returning to the woods and managing forests sustainably, providing “base-wage” jobs, he said. With jobs like those, all businesses do better.

With the multiplier of seven on each dollar that moves through an economy, a $20 wage adds $140 in taxable incomes to the economy, he said. If the government takes it, the economic multiplier drops to three.

With such tax cuts, he believes that businesses and people will move to Oregon, providing an even bigger boost to the economy and generating even more revenue to fund necessary state functions.

“I believe you’re going to have an added 150,000 people move in during the biennium and take advantage of the opportunities and jobs that businesses are going to bring,” Cuff said.

For cities and counties, it will bring bigger property values and development, providing additional property tax revenues, Cuff said.

Taxes have prompted some residents to leave the state, Cuff said. He believes that many retiring workers leave the state to escape the capital gains tax. If that were reduced to zero, those workers could retire in the state and spend their money in the state, subjecting it to taxation as it works its way through the economy.

Another tax that he would like to see go away is the minimum corporate tax, which is $10, he said. That tax is paid by all corporations regardless of a profit or loss.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski is in the papers talking about raising that tax to $1,000 and basing the tax on revenues rather than profit, Cuff said. The problem is that even when businesses escape paying the tax by showing no profit, the cash generated by the business is taxed as income somewhere else in the economy.

“They are paying the taxes in this state,” Cuff said. “I think they ought to scrap the minimum tax. If you didn’t make any money, you shouldn’t pay anything.”

He questions how a business is supposed to pay $1,000 if it had no profit.

“I won’t vote for an increase in taxes of any kind,” Cuff said. “In Oregon, right now, we are overtaxed.

“Kulongoski keeps making statements we just have to make sure they (the public) come to trust us with their money – Then they will open their pockets up and let us reach further in.”

On the other side of budgeting, “we don’t have a revenue problem,” Cuff said. “We have a spending problem.”

The state has a budget of $48 billion, Cuff said. The majority of discussions are over the general fund, which is about 25 percent of the budget. A little more than half of the general fund goes to education.

Many of those other funds are restricted to certain types of spending, Cuff said. He thinks the state could improve the management of its various programs and departments to solve its spending problems.

Looking at the “Quality Education Model,” available online and used every year for lobbying for more general fund dollars, the education lobby wanted $7.77 billion last year, Cuff said. It got about $6.5 billion, and education interests weren’t happy.

But schools are operating on 40 percent of the funding levels for public schools, Cuff said. That’s the figure he received for Sand Ridge Charter School. The school gets 80 percent of the state funding per student, but it doesn’t get property taxes or federal funding.

That’s something he wants to promote, he said. “When you get an exceptional flag to fly (like Sand Ridge) from the education czar of Oregon, you get a bull’s eye on your forehead.”

That’s what has happened with charter schools, he said. The state teacher’s union opposes them, but 300 parents of Sand Ridge students are happy with the results of their children’s education.

The problem is that the charter schools compete with public schools, but those same public schools have control over them, Cuff said. Funding needs to reach those schools through a higher level, through the education service districts, for example.

“Innately as a Republican, I believe that people should govern themselves,” Cuff said. “The law is designed to protect your life, liberty and property. Every law we make should protect life, liberty and property.

“Fundamentally, I believe the responsibility for educating children rests with the parents.”

Ideally, he believes that every parent should be given a $5,000 credit to spend at the educational institution of their choice, he said. “You choose. I think the public schools would do better if they had to compete. I’m passionate about educating the kids in the most efficient way and that parents have control (not unions and bureaucracy).”

Cuff is a real estate agent based in Salem but working primarily in House District 17. He lives in the Mehama-Lyons area.

He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps for four years, including three years stationed in Germany. He served in the National Guard for a year, in 1988-89. He moved to Salem and went to work for Superior Tire Service in 1987, later becoming the store’s purchaser and then sales manager. He provided consulting services for tire companies in 2001 and then went to work in real estate.

He graduated from Gervais High School in 1979. He studied electrical engineering at Oregon State University from 1979 to 1981. He attended Chemeketa Community College and then Willamette University, graduating in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

He is married to Vonna Cuff. They have four children, Tabitha Henricksen, 24; Josiah Cuff, 21; Lydia Cuff, 13; and Gideon Cuff, 11. All were home schooled at least through the fourth grade.