Community Members Support Measure 97 in Hope of Funding Schools

Now that Measure 97, formerly Initiative Petition 28, has officially qualified for the November ballot, opponents are rallying the troops to fight the tax on corporate sales by raking in donations from corporations, with more than $5 million in contributions already.

Although the big names — Target, Geico, Costco, Wells Fargo, Gap — are against Measure 97, which proposes taxing corporations with annual Oregon sales of more than $25 million in order to fund schools and other public services, not every business owner has it out for the measure. A number of local businesses and community members support it.

Passionflower, Capella Market, Palo Alto Software, Voodoo Doughnut and Falling Sky Brewing count themselves as proponents of the measure.

Rob Cohen, co-owner of Falling Sky Brewing, says Oregon schools are in desperate need of funding, and Measure 97 can help.

“As a business person, it’s so clear that when you invest in kids and education, you get an amazing return on your investment through better citizens and better workers,” Cohen says. “It’s a no-brainer to me.”

Cohen’s son started kindergarten with a class size of 35 students last year, and Cohen says he’s worried his son will learn to dislike school if his class sizes continue to balloon.

“I’m a small business owner, and I have a bunch of employees with kids in school. We all bear the burden of trying to educate our kids by volunteering and spending our time trying to shore up this broken system,” he says. “It’s not sustainable.”

Cohen disputes assertions that the measure is regressive, and he says any measure involving revenue would elicit criticism from those paying the tax, no matter its structure. He points to studies that show large companies price regionally, not state by state.

“There’s nothing more regressive than not educating kids,” Cohen says, adding that some industries in Oregon have a difficult time attracting employees because Oregon’s school system lacks funding, and in-demand workers don’t want their children going to Oregon schools.

“It’s not good for business when we can’t bring talent to the state,” Cohen says.

Eileen Nittler, a Eugene 4J school board member, says the entire future of Oregon is at stake if the state can’t find a way to properly educate its future workers.

Nittler supports Measure 97, she says, but as an individual, not as a member of the school board, which has not yet taken a position on the measure. Nittler says the school board will discuss endorsements once board meetings resume in August.

“We are failing the future of Oregon,” Nittler says. “That sounds so apocalyptic, but I’ve had four kids in public education in Oregon, and it’s not what it needs to be for our kids.”

Nittler says the state must prioritize school funding, regardless of the outcome of Measure 97, and she’d like to see an amendment to the Oregon Constitution mandating the state to fund schools to the level recommended by Oregon’s Quality Education Model. Right now, the model shows a yearly $1 billion gap in school funding.

“If we change our priorities, the conversation around tax reforms will follow,” Nittler says.

She says the tax isn’t perfect, but “we don’t have the luxury of arguing over whether our Pop-Tarts might go up a dime. We’re beyond that.”