Legislature has opportunity to pound sense into ‘misshapen creation’
Monday, May 6, 2019
“Oregon is an inspiration,” Gov. Tom McCall told the 57th Oregon Legislative Assembly on Jan. 8, 1973.
“Whether you come to it or are born to it,” he said, “you fall spellbound by this state’s beauty, the opportunity it affords, and the kindliness of its citizens.”
He warned, however, that inspiration was not enough for Oregon.
“Society is not static, and government must be able to respond capably and fairly to emergent crises.”
What emergent crises was he referring to? He listed one, above all: “So it is that we now tackle that misshapen creation of our own making – our tax structure for the support of schools.”
More than 45 years later, the 80th Legislative Assembly is poised to tackle that misshapen creation and to address what McCall called the “grave inequities of educational finance” that persist to this day, despite McCall’s warning almost a half-century ago.
The Student Success Act, HB 3427, passed out of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, May 1, after more than six hours of debate and procedural wrangling. The bill, which would create a modified corporate activities tax to raise approximately $2 billion a biennium for education, required a three-fifths majority for passage. It passed on a party-line vote, with 37 Democrats voting “aye” and 21 Republicans voting “nay.” (Two legislators, one from each party, were excused.)
The bill will now move to the Senate, where a vote is expected as soon as Tuesday, May 7. There are 18 Senate Democrats, the minimum number needed for the three-fifths requirement, including Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose. Johnson has not declared a position on HB 3427, but she has been one of the most skeptical Democrats when it comes to new taxes. If the vote falls along party lines, it could hinge on Johnson’s choice.
House Bill 5016, the funding bill for the State School Fund, passed out of the Joint Ways and Means Committee on Friday. The bill would allocate $9 billion to the State School Fund for the 2019-21 biennium. This is above the $8.97 billion proposed by Gov. Kate Brown and significantly more than the legislatively calculated current service level cost projection of $8.77 billion. That bill is also well on its way, having been voted out of the full Ways and Means committee on Friday, May 3.
The magnitude of these two bills, one allocating $9 billion to the State School Fund and another to add approximately $2 billion in new investments, cannot be overstated. They represent a generational investment in education and have earned loud praise from education advocates and stakeholders statewide.
The Student Success Act “is a chance to right the wrongs of decades of disinvestment,” Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, told her colleagues during the floor vote on the bill, “and change the trajectory of our state.”
“This is a huge investment in our students,” said OSBA Executive Director Jim Green, “that will be game-changing for every school across the state.”
Morgan Allen, deputy director of policy and advocacy for the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, called it a cause for celebration.
School board members, education advocates and Oregonians should take time to consider what this kind of investment in Oregon schools would represent. It’s something McCall never got to do. Later in 1973, after his tax plan went belly up at the hands of his own Republican Party, he lamented to the Portland Rotary Club that his plan “was the first tax program in history to win death with dignity.”
Let us hope that the Senate can find enough of the Oregon inspiration to avoid that fate for the Student Success Act and to turn the bill into real action for our students.