Passing measures 66 and 67 essential for Ashland schools

Passing both measures 66 and 67 is essential, or the Ashland School District's budget will be reduced significantly. After being cut $3.5 million last year, another significant reduction could mean fewer school days and/or more layoffs. Neither of these options provides the type of public education that our children merit.

This is not hyperbole, like the opposition's "job-killing taxes" slogan designed to discourage you from voting for these measures. No, this is simply the reality of what will transpire. If either of these measures is defeated, the state Legislature will cut funding for a host of services, including K-12 education (41 percent of the state's current budget) in order to balance the state's budget. A balanced budget is mandated by our state constitution. State House Speaker Dave Hunt said, "There will be no alternative revenue package in February. So the only option is further cuts."

How much will be cut from K-12's budget is uncertain, but if it is cut at the same rate as all other services, the Ashland School District stands to lose $1.39 million. This means 10 to 20 school district staff could lose their jobs and/or the school year could be reduced by up to three weeks.

If the Ashland School District has to cut staff, this will have a snowball effect. All remaining school district staff are likely to have an increased workload (think more students per class) and this has the potential to exacerbate a currently challenging situation. Given this possibility — job cuts and overworked educators — Oregon voters not only need to vote yes; they need to discuss the ramifications of these measures with their neighbors and encourage them to vote yes.

The central argument by opponents of Measures 66 and 67 is that these are "job killing taxes." According to experts at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center (nationally recognized experts in tax, budget and social policy), these claims are based on "misleading analysis" and "fatally flawed assumptions."

Measure 67 is about tax fairness. The current Oregon corporate minimum tax is $10. Currently, two-thirds of corporations doing business in Oregon pay just $10 a year. The average family of four pays $3,100 annually in income taxes.

Please tell me with a straight face that this is tax fairness.

The corporate rate of $10/year has not changed since 1931. Please tell me what business has not raised its price for services since 1931. This rate needs to more accurately reflect the benefits that accrue to businesses from operating in a state that provides a reasonable amount of services, including public education, so that these businesses can hire an educated work force.

Ironically, there are some businesses that will say raising this rate from $10 annually is unfair. Currently, Oregon has the lowest business taxes of 11 western states ("Council on State Taxation," Ernst and Young, 2008). Oregon businesses used to provide 18 percent of the revenue for the State's General Fund. Currently, they provide 4 percent. Businesses' share of the tax burden for Oregon has been steadily dropping. They could have tried to reverse this trend, but it has worked in their favor for years. Now that there is a tax measure to slow this erosion, some businesses are upset.

Tax revenue raised from a higher corporate minimum will be partially invested in Oregon schools. This investment is essential to economic recovery and Oregon's long-term economic health. Every dollar invested in public education returns $9 to the community ("K-12 Spending and the Oregon Economy," EcoNorthwest, 2002).

Measure 66 increases the personal tax burden on those making more than $250,000 annually. Most, if not all, of these families are gainfully employed. Who can better afford to pay slightly more in taxes to assist our state? Out of 87,141 tax filers in Jackson County, this measure would only impact 1,728. To them I say, "Thank you for helping keep Oregon's essential services intact."

Oregon's per capita tax rate is currently 34th in the nation and will grow to 31st with the passage of Measure 66. Additionally, tax increases under Measure 66 are scaled back almost in half after 2011, getting us through the worst of the recession. If you are a family making less than $250,000 in net income (this is 97.5 percent of taxpayers in Oregon), you will not pay a penny more in taxes.

Eminent economists, such as President Obama's budget director Peter Orszag and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, agree that, in a recession, it is preferable for states to enact targeted tax increases than to cut services.

Three dozen Oregon economists issued an open letter, dated Oct. 7, 2009, backing the Oregon Legislature's decision to balance budget cuts with tax increases targeted at corporations and high-income Oregonians, calling it "a prudent course of action" from an economic perspective.

Business and education do not exist in separate vacuum states. Businesses depend on public schools to educate their future employees and their current employee's children, along with their own children.

The public school system is an integral part of quality of life. Especially in Ashland. When the schools decline, good people start looking to move away, and it becomes harder to recruit good people from outside the state.

Join me in helping Oregon recover from this recession. Vote Yes on Measures 66 and 67.

Keith Massie is the Ashland School District board chair.

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