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Oregon Senate passes 'Student Success Act' tax on high-earning businesses

The Oregon Senate has approved a multibillion dollar education tax designed to boost student performance and decrease class sizes.

Posted: May 13, 2019 4:53 PM
Updated: May 13, 2019 5:39 PM

By SARAH ZIMMERMAN Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Senate Republicans ended a weeklong walkout Monday and returned to the Oregon Capitol after Democratic leadership agreed to major concessions on some of the most high-profile bills this session.

Statement from the Oregon Education Association (OEA) on the bill's passing:

“Less than a week ago, tens of thousands of educators, students, parents, and supporters gathered in one voice in nearly 100 communities across the state to call on lawmakers to do prioritize Oregon students,” says John Larson, high school English teacher and president of the Oregon Education Association. “Together, we are making history. Educators and public school families can start to breathe a sigh of relief tonight, knowing that instead of worrying about budget cuts, we can instead focus on the educational needs of our students and our future.”

“This $2 billion increase to the education budget means our schools will be able to afford to invest in students for the first time in decades,” says Larson. “Because of these dedicated funds, we’ll be able to give students more individual attention and smaller class sizes, we’ll restore programs like art, music, and PE, and we’ll be able to provide the mental and behavioral health supports our students so desperately need.”

In an earlier statement, Larson also said the following:

“I am extremely disappointed to see that gun safety has taken a back seat in the Oregon Legislature today. There have been eight school shootings already this year in our country. CNN has reported that the United States has 57 times as many school shootings as the other major industrialized nations combined. Our children, even kindergarteners, are forced to undergo active shooter drills at school -- not just fire and earthquake drills. Gun safety is a national crisis and it’s unnerving and unconscionable to delay this legislation.

"The Oregon Education Association will continue to fight for the safety of our students and educators. School should be a safe place to learn and grow. Without passing laws to increase gun safety here in Oregon, that sanctuary will continue to be under threat.”

Democrats scrapped bills on gun control and vaccines in exchange for Republicans' return to Senate and their agreement not to pull a similar maneuver in the future.

Three Republicans returned to the Senate, one more than what's needed to formally conduct business. The chamber was able to approve by an 18-11 vote a $1 billion per year school funding tax. It previously passed the House and now heads to Gov. Kate Brown for her signature. It would raise $1 billion per year through a half a percent tax on Oregon's wealthiest businesses via a .057% tax on gross receipts for businesses with $1 million or more in sales.

The agreement to move forward with the education tax vote marks a huge win for the Republican minority, which has remained largely powerless this session against a Democratic governor and legislative supermajority.

The vaccine measure, which was already approved by the House, would have ended families' ability to opt-out of school vaccination requirements for personal, philosophical or religious reasons. If passed, Oregon would have had one of the strongest vaccine laws in the country at a time when the national measles count has hit its highest in decades.

"This bill was about saving lives, protecting children and ensuring our shared immunity from dangerous and preventable diseases," said Rep. Cheri Helt, the Republican from Bend behind the vaccine proposal. "It's disappointing that once again the loudest, most extreme voices in our politics prevailed and the sensible-center and thoughtful policy-making lost."

Democrats also agreed to squash a gun control package that would have allowed businesses to raise the purchasing age to 21 and require gun owners to safely store their weapons. Both bills drew considerable opposition from a vocal Republican minority.

Senate Republicans walked out May 6 to delay a vote on the multibillion dollar school funding tax. They said they refused to vote on any new funding for education without a solution to the state's increasing public pension debt.

The protest occurred the week of a massive statewide teacher walkout over classroom funding. Oregon pays far less per student compared to other states despite the fact that school funding takes up the largest portion of the state budget.

Education has been a major budgetary and legislative priority for Democrats this session.

Opponents said the tax will be passed onto consumers and that the state shouldn't increase funding without first addressing Oregon's spiraling pension debt.

"No doubt we need the money," said Cliff Bentz, a Republican from Eastern Oregon. "This bill is the wrong way to raise it."

Legislative leaders unveiled a pension plan last week that would shield employers from the impact of upcoming interest rate hikes, though it garnered significant opposition from unions.

Educators cheered the funding boost, which they say is sorely needed to combat years of cuts that have forced schools to slash staff and programs like arts, music and P.E.

"Many of us in Oregon have spent our entire adult lives waiting for the day we would fix our broken school funding model," Jim Green, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association, in a statement. "That day is now on the horizon."

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