A check to be thankful for


Analysts this week will start figuring out exactly how much money will be returned to Oregon taxpayers this fall.

The median kicker refund is expected to be about $285 and the checks should be mailed around Thanksgiving, providing a boost to retailers and debt-riddled consumers during the Christmas shopping season.

Under Oregon's unique kicker law, the state must return tax dollars that exceed budget projections &

assuming the actual tax receipts exceed the estimate by at least 2 percent.

In the recently concluded business cycle, the actual tax receipts were more than 20 percent higher than what economists predicted in 2005. At that time, the state was emerging from the recession from 2001-03 and didn't anticipate the historic real estate boom of the past two years.

The total amount of the rebate adds up to an estimated $1.165 billion, according to the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. The previous record was $635 million, which was sent to taxpayers in 1999.

While a rebate has been considered a certainty for months, the amount wasn't locked in until the end of the business day Friday, when state accountants closed the books for the 2005-07 budget cycle that ended June 30.

Starting Monday, analysts will start running reports to determine precisely how much each taxpayer can expect, economist Michael Kennedy said. State economists will present the kicker figures to lawmakers Aug. 31 in their regular quarterly revenue forecast.

The total kicker refund for 2007 was actually pegged to be higher, but lawmakers steered the corporate share of the kicker into a new rainy day fund.

The release of kicker checks for the first time since 2001 will likely spur a renewal of an argument between those who favor small government and those who prefer big government.

To those in favor of small government, the rebates represent a check on bureaucracy. Advocates for public programs, meanwhile, say the state should use the surplus to help the needy or save it as a hedge against economic downturns.

Given its popularity with taxpayers, the kicker is here to stay, said State Rep. Chuck Burley, R-Bend. But he does see some parallels to 2001, when the state sent kicker checks and then had to cut programs because the economy weakened.

"I'm not an economist and I don't have a crystal ball, but the concerns about a slowdown are more prevalent, and Wall Street analysts say it's about 50 percent that we could end up in a recession," he said.

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