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It Will Be A Great Day

Commentary
October 28, 2006By Chuck Sheketoff

Over my desk, there’s a poster dating back to the late 1970s that reads, “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

Unfortunately I have not been able to retire the poster: schools have not been adequately funded for quite some time. Under Measure 5 in 1990, voters shifted responsibility for funding K-12 education from local property taxes to the state. The final straw that led many communities to create school foundations in the 1990s was the failure of the Legislature and voters to step up to the plate after Measure 5 passed.

The cost of our country’s military today is an important concern, but today I am setting my sights on things that are more in the control of Oregon voters and the people we elect to represent us in Salem.

It will be a great day when schools don’t need school foundations and public funding is adequate to provide every child, regardless of where they live or their economic circumstances, the resources to succeed in school, from pre-K through higher ed. School foundations and similar local funding efforts are nothing for the state as a whole to be proud of; their existence represents the failure of the public to support schools in the post-Measure 5 environment. Why should kids have to hold bake sales, sell wrapping paper, or hawk entertainment books and candy to get a decent education? Why should they have to see their “McTeacher” working behind a McDonald’s counter to support a school program that their community should be funding?

It will also be a great day when the Legislature and voters put the “income” back into the corporate income tax and end the great corporate tax shift. Thirty years ago, corporations paid about 18 percent of Oregon’s income taxes. Today they pay only about 6 percent. That’s one of the main reasons why our children start their school year as hucksters for school foundations and parent-teacher groups. If corporations paid their fair share, students could focus on education, not on worrying whether they will raise enough to cover the gaps.

It will be a great day, too, when candidates for public office stop their nonsensical calls for reducing or repealing the best player on Oregon’s income tax team, the income tax on capital gains, while at the same time claiming they are “the education candidate.” Any student of the income tax on capital gains knows that the proposed reduction primarily benefits the wealthiest of Oregonians, and would hurt schools and other public services while doing nothing to improve Oregon’s economic climate.

It will also be a great day when the legislature and voters direct our state to behave like any responsible business or household and save unanticipated revenues for the inevitable economic rainy day. The personal and corporate kickers make no sense and rob Oregonians of the opportunity to prepare for the next economic downturn. We should convert both kickers into a rainy day fund.

And, finally, it will be a great day when voters reject politicians who support tax and budget policies that undermine education and the other public structures that Oregonians rely upon each day. Oregonians need leaders who recognize that our public structures are part of the economy and that the economy is dependent upon a healthy public sector. Voters should laugh off the ballot those politicians who make the patently bogus claim that cutting taxes pays for itself or that government spending on crucial investments like schools and health care is bad for the economy.

November 7th could be the start of a great day for Oregon. The votes we cast won’t force the Air Force to hold a bake sale, but they could move us toward a better future for our schools, health care, public safety, and the other public structures Oregonians value.