Teachers rally in support of tax hike for schools

Teachers rally in support of tax hike for schools

(Ore.) Democratic leaders of the state Senate will try again this week to move a bill raising billions of dollars in new taxes on businesses largely to benefit schools.

Minority Republican Senators stalled action last week on HB 3427 by simply refusing to show up for a floor vote and thus preventing a quorum that would have allowed legislative business to be conducted.

At issue is a tax hike on all commercial activity conducted in the state that would generate an estimated $2 billion every two years.

The bill requires the new revenue to be spent on “increasing learning time, decreasing class size, offering a well-rounded education, or student health or safety.”

The delay tactics by GOP Senators came just ahead of a massive teacher walkout in protest of the state’s support for schools. An estimated 25,000 educators rallied in Portland on Wednesday while a number of school districts closed for the day because of the walkout.

“Oregon schools are in crisis,” said John Larson, high school English teacher and president of the Oregon Education Association in a statement. “This proposal to invest $2 billion in education directly addresses the issues facing our schools today. (It also) prioritizes resources to go directly to the classroom, reducing class sizes, restoring critical programs like career-technical education and art and music, and providing for students’ mental and behavioral health needs.”

Oregon, which can boast of a long-term upward trend in graduation rates, also suffers an equally long-term downward trend when it comes to school funding. Per-pupil funding in 2018-19 was just over $5,000, which places the state in the bottom quadrant nationally, according to a report from the state’s Quality Education Commission.

As proposed, the new revenues would come from a tax of 0.57 percent sales inside the state’s borders that exceed $1 million. The first $1 million in sales would be exempt, and there are also carve-outs for gas, groceries and some health care providers.

An estimated 40,000 businesses—out of a total of nearly 500,000—would be hit by the tax, according to state analysis.

Nike, the state’s largest employer, is on the record supporting the tax hike and reportedly has even donated $100,000 to a political action committee setup to defend the measure at the ballot box.

It is unclear what the Republican strategy might be moving forward.

Democrats hold a supermajority with 18 of the state Senate’s 30 seats, and under state law have the votes to pass legislation without Republican support. The Democrats do, however, need two GOP Senators to be on the floor to achieve the 20 member quorum requirement.

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