Lawmakers break promise to students rather than block tax cuts for the rich

Commentary Photo by @ITSD3D3 from

Photo by @ITSD3D3 from

September 1, 2020By Juan Carlos Ordóñez

“Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, your Oregon Promise Grant has been revoked.”

That’s the notice sent to about 1,000 Oregon students recently, following the Oregon legislature’s decision to cut $3.6 million in tuition assistance for students planning to attend community college. Now, with classes set to start, these students must scramble to figure how to pay for college.

It didn’t have to be this way. Oregon could have kept its promise to students. Instead, the legislature chose to favor the rich and corporations at the expense of students and many Oregonians who are struggling to get by.

The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has pummeled Oregon’s revenue collections. In what remains of the current budget period, the state was short about $1 billion.

To fill that shortfall, the legislature met in a one-day special session on August 10. Lawmakers voted to tap $400 million in state education reserves and use accounting maneuvers and service cuts to balance the remainder of the budget. The legislature cut from the Oregon Promise Grant, from a program that assists families facing extreme hardship, and from other crucial services.

As the legislature slashed services, it left untouched $225 million in brand new tax cuts for the rich and corporations. Keep in mind, the legislature never debated these tax cuts. Oregonians never had the opportunity to testify on the wisdom of lavishing more tax breaks on the rich and corporations. The tax breaks, long-sought by special interest lobbyists, were tucked inside one of the massive pieces of federal legislation responding to the coronavirus crisis. And, because Oregon automatically connects to many changes in the federal tax code, this means Oregon replicates the federal tax breaks unless the legislature affirmatively rejects them.

The legislature failed to do this on August 10. It didn’t even put the issue of rejecting the tax breaks for the rich and corporations up for a vote. Several lawmakers, however, stood on the House and Senate floor to deride this failure and argue in favor of disconnecting from the tax breaks.

One of these tax breaks — there are three in need of disconnection — can rightly be described as a tax break for millionaires. It is estimated to deliver 90 percent of the tax benefits to business owners making $1 million or more in a year. From this one tax break alone, about 1,000 rich Oregonians will receive on average a tax cut of about $90,000 this year.

It’s a cruel irony. The legislature acts as if there is no money to help 1,000 students pay for community college, even as it lavishes a huge tax break on 1,000 well off Oregonians.

But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. The Oregon legislature still has time to act, to call another special session to reject the tax cut for the rich and corporations. It still has time to honor its promise to Oregonians.

Tell the Governor and legislature to hold another special session. This time, lawmakers must pull the plug on tax breaks for the most privileged Oregonians.