Last week, former Oregon governor John Kitzhaber made a lengthy post on his Facebook page, criticizing Gov. Kate Brown’s neutral stance on Initiative Petition 28, which proposes taxing corporations with annual Oregon sales of more than $25 million to fund schools and senior and health services.
“With all due respect,” writes Kitzhaber, who resigned last year as governor in the midst of an ethics scandal involving his fiancee, “I find it hard to understand how any public official or candidate for statewide office could be neutral on a measure that would bring about the most sweeping change in Oregon’s tax system since Ballot Measure 5 passed in 1990.”
Measure 5 capped property taxes in Oregon and shifted school funding from the local level to the state level, helping to bring about Oregon’s current school funding crisis.
IP 28 has qualified as a ballot measure, and voters will decide its outcome in the November election. Businesses are rallying to oppose the measure, while teachers’ unions and other backers of IP 28 argue that the tax is the only way to ensure that corporations in Oregon and paying their “fair share.” According to Oregon’s Quality Education Commission, Oregon is underfunding its schools by about $1 billion a year.
In his social media post, Kitzhaber acknowledges Oregon’s “disinvestment in education,” but he alleges that “the measure was written by pollsters rather than economists, and is the product of ballot title shopping.”
It is not my purpose today to analyze the measure but simply to point out that there is still time, although not much, for our elected leadership to convene labor and business and work out a compromise measure that has a broader tax base, is less regressive and will avoid the kind of divisive campaign for which we are now setting the stage. I urge the governor to do so. Ballot Measures 66 and 67 tore our state apart in the depths of the Great Recession and did not solve the problem of chronic underfunding in our system of public education. We are heading for something much worse in terms of the bitterness and polarization that a multi-million dollar IP 28 campaign will generate.
The collateral damage from the campaign itself will mean that — whether the measure passes or fails — Oregon will lose in terms of its ability to come together and effectively address the challenges that will confront our state in 2017 and beyond. Many of the provisions in the governor’s plan to spend the IP 28 revenue seem to be focused on mitigating the many unintended consequences of the measure itself. Pulling that off in a deeply divided and polarized legislature is problematic at best.
Kitzhaber concludes his post by saying that just because the measure has made the ballot does not mean Oregonians need to “resign ourselves,” ending with another push toward compromise and asking for strong leadership and courage.
So far, no such compromise has emerged.