Oregon teachers union files multi-billion dollar corporate tax initiative
The Oregonian/OregonLive, June 1, 2017
SALEM – One of Oregon’s largest public employee unions is once again asking voters to raise corporate taxes, less than a year after they rejected the mammoth Measure 97.
The Oregon Education Association is in the process of filing a November 2018 ballot initiative that could raise as much as $1.75 billion annually for K-12 and higher education through a corporate tax that would be assessed based on companies’ sales.
The teachers union is also filing a second initiative that would make it easier for the Legislature to raise corporate taxes to pay for education. It would do so by removing the current requirement for a three-fifths supermajority to increase taxes to pay for education in some circumstances.
“Parents and students are fed up with having the third largest class sizes in the nation,” Hanna Vaandering, president of the Oregon Education Association said in a press release on Thursday. “Having strong public schools is an Oregon value, but you would never know by looking at the Oregon legislature. These ballot measures seek to put the power back in the hands of the people not the powerful business lobbyists that control Salem.”
The union is among the financial supporters of Our Oregon, the political nonprofit behind Measure 97. That initiative would have raised more than $3 billion annually, but it went down to defeat in November after a bruising campaign that was the costliest ballot battle in Oregon history.
Union leaders appear to have incorporated some lessons from Measure 97’s defeat into the latest initiative, which would raise a smaller amount of revenue and dedicate those funds to education. Measure 97 faced criticism that it would have handed a huge amount of new money to lawmakers, with no guarantee they’d spend it on the intended education and human services programs.
The latest initiative’s tax rate of 0.95 percent is also lower than the 2.5 percent rate in Measure 97. But since the tax would be assessed on companies with $5 million in annual sales – while Measure 97 would only have hit companies with $25 million in annual sales – it would be paid by many more corporations. The new initiative would also reduce personal income taxes in the two lowest brackets.
The ballot initiative filings came amid a flurry of press releases Thursday about the inadequacy of the state’s current $8.2 billion K-12 budget proposal, which passed out of a budget writing committee without accounting for any cost-cutting or revenue raising proposals that lawmakers have been working on to improve the state’s long-term budget outlook.
Lawmakers are trying to close an estimated $1.4 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget in order to avoid severe cuts to current programs and services. Bills aimed at trimming costs from public employee pensions and other areas could be introduced in the next few days, and a legislative committee is continuing to work on a corporate tax proposal that would raise a smaller amount than the union initiative.
The lawmaker who’s been leading that effort over the last year, Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, said in an interview Thursday that there’s still a possibility lawmakers could pass a gross receipts tax, the same type of tax structure proposed by the Oregon Education Association.
“We’re at a crossroads,” Hass said on Thursday. “We have a choice to do nothing because its’ too hard. We have a choice to do some tried and true short-term changes, tax increases. And third, we have a choice to reform our system that will add a measure of stability and reform I think is the key.”
The proposal would remove the current requirement for a three-fifths supermajority to increase taxes to pay for education when the Legislature funds it at a level below a state guideline called the Quality Education Model. The model is an idealistic look at funding schools based mainly on small class sizes and other educator-to-student ratios. If the state followed it, Oregon would likely be at or near the top of national rankings for per-student spending.
Two other unions, SEIU 503 and Oregon AFSCME, are filing a third ballot measure that would require publicly traded corporations to report their Oregon taxes in public filings with the Secretary of State’s office.