Show Me the Money: Funding Public Services in Oregon

Do we pay too much in state taxes? We asked Oregonians which publicly funded services they support.

pen on top of a 2020 Form 1040 tax document

Taxes are a controversial topic, especially in Oregon. While we don’t have sales tax, we do have an income tax, property taxes, tobacco tax, and more. We asked Oregonians what they thought about the state’s taxation policies and how the government uses public funds. Between October 1 and October 6, 2020, we surveyed 600 Oregonians ages 18+ about a variety of topics. Our survey included questions about Covid-19, climate change, homelessness, and, of course, tax-funded public services. We adhered to demographic quotas to ensure that our panel was a representative sample of Oregonians.

Funding Public Services with Taxes

Oregonians were split on their opinions about taxes and public services. About one third of respondents felt that we spend too much on public services and taxes should be reduced (31%), which is close to how many feel we spend the right amount on taxes (32%). Twenty-three percent felt that we don’t spend enough on public services, and taxes should increase. Fifteen percent were unsure.

Are Oregon Residents and Businesses Paying Too Much in Taxes?

In general, Oregonians across the board said they think small businesses and individuals pay the right amount in Oregon state taxes but that large businesses pay too little. Tri-county residents and Democrats were more inclined to think that all three — small businesses, large businesses, and individuals — were paying too little in taxes.

When we broke those opinions down by geographic and demographic subgroups, we found that Tri-county residents and Democrats feel that Oregon doesn’t spend enough on public services, and our taxes should be raised. We also found that women are less likely to think that Oregon spends too much money on public services, but many women and respondents between ages 18 and 44 said they were unsure.

This division on supporting public services isn’t new for Oregon. During our 2013 Oregon Values and Beliefs study, we recorded a similar split: 30 percent said too much, 31 percent said the state had the right amount, 28 percent said not enough, and 10 percent were unsure.  

Measuring Support for Publicly Funded Services

To find out what public services Oregonians support, we asked them their opinions on twenty-one public services. These included everything from public safety to 4-year colleges — in other words, any state-funded program that uses taxpayer money.

Participants could respond one of three ways for each of the twenty-one services.

Very or somewhat important: You support the state increasing your taxes or reallocating funds to support and improve the service.

Neutral: You don’t want to pay more taxes to support the service even if that means the service will disappear.

Somewhat or very unimportant: You want fewer or no taxes to go to the service and think the state should reduce or discontinue the program entirely.

Which Tax-Funded Public Services Do Oregonians Support?

Bar graph depicting the six most important public services that Oregonians think deserve their tax dollars

According to our panelists, the most important public services were fire protection (77 percent), protection of water and air quality (75 percent), and emergency and disaster preparedness (73 percent). K-12 education, public health, and road and highway maintenance fell at or just below 70 percent. 

The four public services that Oregonians agreed were very important were protection of water and air quality, K-12 education, fire protection, and publicly funded health insurance. 

On the other hand, Oregonians felt that the least important service on the list was subsidies and tax breaks for business expansion, which most respondents rated as unimportant.

Important Statistical Trends to Note

Based on the results we received, these are the insights we arrived at about how Oregonians feel about each public service category.


Seventy percent of respondents said that funding K-12 education is the most important of the publicly funded educational services. After that, it was a significant drop to vocational school (60 percent) and community college (56 percent) before reaching 4-year colleges at a mere 44 percent. These funds go towards teacher salaries and supplies.


Sixty-nine percent of Oregonians felt that road and highway maintenance was a more important use of taxpayer money than improving public transit or building new roads. 

Public Safety

In 2013, we combined police and fire protection into one category called “public safety.” Since then, the police have been in the spotlight for their conduct, so we split the two services into their own categories. Seventy-seven percent of respondents rated fire protection very or somewhat important as compared to only 55 percent for police.


Respondents agreed that protection of water and air quality was one of the most important services on the list. A majority of every demographic subgroup rated it very or somewhat important.

Economic Development

Although subsidies and tax breaks for business expansion were the lowest rated public service, it received the most polarizing response. Most participants gave it a neutral rating, but 30 percent said it was important and 32 percent said it wasn’t. 

The Seven-Year Difference

This survey reprises our 2013 Oregon Values and Beliefs Study, which surveyed Oregonians on the same list of public services, with the exception of fire protection (originally combined with police as “public safety”) and public health. We compared this year’s results to those of our 2013 study and found two things:

  1. Our comparative analysis shows a decline in support — or at least willingness to pay more for — education from K-12 through university. 
  2. Respondents in 2020 were more willing to pay higher taxes to support publicly funded health insurance, low income support, emergency disaster and preparedness, and public transportation. All four of these public services most likely saw an increase in attention and support because of the Covid-19 pandemic and our recent wildfires, when such services have been in greater demand.