(Portland, Ore.)---Following this morning’s hearing of the Joint Committee on Tax Reform, Ashley Henry, chief collaboration officer for business group Business for a Better Portland (BBPDX), released the following statement on behalf of the organization.
“As business owners, managers, investors and chief executive officers, our members believe that business thrives when our whole community thrives. Since launching earlier this year, we have rapidly grown to over 100 members from across industries: financial services, real estate, advertising, graphic design, grocery, and technology. Our members represent new industries and growing sectors of the city’s economy.
In Oregon’s 93rd month of economic expansion, our state’s leaders should not be considering eliminating teachers from classrooms and in-home caregivers for seniors and people with disabilities. The proposed budget cuts that would be required if legislators fail to act will undermine critical state goals: improved graduation rates for students of color, improved STEM education for workforce readiness, and equity programs to aid historically disadvantaged groups. Our state’s current revenue model is unsustainable. We encourage our leaders to push forward to find a solution during this session.
There has been progress. The governor and Legislature are moving forward to develop cost containment strategies that many members of the business community called for during the divisive Measure 97 campaign. And as economist John Tapogna pointed out in a recent op-ed in the Oregonian, Oregon has already made significant headway on slowing the rise in healthcare and corrections spending. We look forward to seeing the cost containment proposals that will be released.
We had not anticipated that we would be engaging on issues regarding the state budget in our first year of existence. BBPDX has focused on local issues in Portland, but the budget crisis in Salem, combined with one-sided calls from a narrow set of business interests to delay structural revenue reform yet again, has compelled us to provide input. We encourage our leaders to push forward, find a solution, and act with courage and vision during this session at this critical time in our state and nation.
Most of our members are new to the world of policy engagement in Salem. Legislators rarely hear a business perspective outside of those represented by large associations and out-of-state interests. These organizations are disconnected from the views of smaller and growing businesses in new industries like those represented by BBPDX. These businesses bring vibrancy to our communities. They are driving Oregon’s economy into the future and diversifying its workforce. We can imagine that it would be easy for legislators to get disheartened when the only business constituency they hear from is an echo chamber of large industry leaders and lobbyists. We remind our leaders that what they are hearing ‘inside the building’ is not representative of the entire diversity of business leaders across the state.
Earlier this month, we surveyed our members on the proposals emerging from both House and Senate leadership. The feedback we received overwhelmingly supported legislative efforts to pursue a balanced, long-term, sustainable budget this session. The survey revealed a solid understanding that Oregon needs to move away from depending so heavily on income taxes to fund essential services. There’s also a recognition that while some business tax frameworks currently under consideration may result in cost increases for our companies, the long-term costs of disinvesting in schools and public services will be far greater for our city, state and, of course, our businesses, whose success depends on being part of healthy communities.
We are encouraged by the revenue raising plan that Senator Hass developed and appreciate the leadership he and other Senators demonstrated to ensure that the business community’s concerns about the adverse impacts of Measure 97 were addressed. This approach addresses many of the concerns of our members and represents a strong starting point for establishing a stable revenue source that will ensure our schools and communities have the resources they need for years to come.
We welcome the ideas about revenue reform that Brighter Oregon shared publicly today. While we are hopeful that their willingness to consider some revenue options means that legislators won’t be forced to make some onerous cuts, it’s disheartening that Brighter Oregon and their partners waited until the 11th hour to offer up temporary generalizations as opposed to support for specific revenue solutions that will provide for long-term sustainability. It is simply not enough to point the finger only at cost containment. The State must consider stable sources of revenue at the same time. It should be unacceptable to every legislator and industry lobbyist to be 48th in the nation in high school graduation rates.
As the end of this session approaches, we encourage legislators to take action and implement a long-term budget solution that addresses structural liabilities while ensuring our state has the revenue needed to fund public education and social services and keep our communities strong. When it comes to both spending and revenue, the status quo is not a viable option. To push tough budget decisions beyond this session is to disregard the importance of a stable revenue structure for the future of our children, our communities, and Oregon’s economy.”