Legislative Controversy

A bill to fund schools raises eyebrows with environmentalists

A bill in the Oregon Legislature that would raise much-needed money for schools is troubling local environmental advocates.

Patty Hine of 350 Eugene says the group has been looking into replicating a Portland ballot measure, passed in November 2018, to address climate change.

The measure imposes a 1 percent gross receipts tax on large retail businesses that make $1 billion or more in gross sales nationally as well as at least $500,000 in revenue in the city. The tax raises money for Portland’s clean energy initiative.

Hine says House Bill 3427, the Student Success Act, has what she calls a “poison pill” that would prevent cities and counties from enacting a similar tax. HB 3427 would raise $2 billion for schools.

The Portland clean energy tax is expected to raise up to $70 million annually, according to environmental advocate Brent Foster, with funds expected to go toward solar projects, job training programs and energy-efficient home upgrades aiding low-income residents and communities of color — whom he says are disproportionately affected by climate change.

HB 3427 will be discussed in the Joint Committee on Student Success on Monday, April 29.

State Rep. Marty Wilde says that school funding “was the number one priority for most people when I asked at their doors during the election.”

Hine says HB 3427 “prevents communities from bringing ballot measures to the voters to raise funds from large corporations’ gross receipts.”

She says she doesn’t understand why, with a supermajority, Democrats are “pandering to corporate interests.” She argues if a restriction was made, the bill could restrict taxes on education only, since it is an education bill. 

Wilde says he’s pleased the bill would raise $2 billion for schools.

He adds, “It is unfortunate that we will apparently not allow cities and counties to consider this approach to fund their critical needs,” he says. “But I understand that the business community would like to ensure that they have anticipated all the consequences of this approach before expansion is considered.”

Wilde also says that HB 2020, the state Clean Energy Jobs bill currently in the Legislature, would fund the things Hine is concerned about addressing with a local tax.