Oregon Senate passes Student Success Act -- a tax on some businesses to fund education

In a May 10, 2018 photo, Sergeant at Arms Leta Edwards stands in the foreground as Democratic senators talk among themselves on the Senate floor on after the Senate failed to reach a quorum for the fourth straight day because of a Republican boycott in Salem, Ore. Republican senators began their walkout on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, to protest an education-funding bill that imposes a tax on some businesses. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

The Oregon Senate has approved a multibillion dollar education tax designed to boost student performance and decrease class sizes.

The chamber passed the bill 18 to 11 Monday afternoon after minority Republicans ended a nearly week-long walkout to protest the levy. Three Republicans returned to the Senate, one more than what's needed to formally conduct business.

The measure previously passed the House and now heads to Gov. Kate Brown for her signature.

It would raise $1 billion per year through a half a percent tax on Oregon's wealthiest businesses.

The package calls for a .057% tax on gross receipts for businesses with $1 million or more in sales, which make up less than 10% of all businesses in the state.

In a tweet, Brown said she looks forward to signing the bill.

Democrats got Republicans to end their walkout by agreeing to drop two measures. One bill would have required vaccinations for children to attend public schools, unless they have a doctor's note. The other was a gun-control bill.

Senate President Peter Courtney told reporters the governor stepped in to help with negotiations. He said she talked with both Democrats and Republicans, but would not elaborate further.

Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said this was a historic day in the Legislature, but she was sad to see the vaccine and gun bills killed.

"We should feel very good about the vote we took today. We really should. This is going to be transformational," she said.

Republicans said while they agree schools need more money, they said the bill was the wrong way to raise it. They said it would hurt small businesses and agricultural companies. But they also feared the money would just go toward paying down the state's multibillion-dollar PERS debt.

"While I agree with many of the provisions of this bill and the education policy in it, the tax package is not equitable in the way that it's currently crafted," said Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend.

Knopp called the business tax a hidden sales tax that would be passed along to consumers. When asked if Republicans might walk out again, Knopp said not this session.

Senators from both sides of the aisle told KATU News they were happy to get back to work.

Democrats said the bill took 16 months of work and they took input from people across the state.

In a statement, the state's largest teachers union, the Oregon Education Association, celebrated the bill's passage.

“Together, we are making history," said OEA president John Larson. "Educators and public school families can start to breathe a sigh of relief tonight, knowing that instead of worrying about budget cuts, we can instead focus on the educational needs of our students and our future.”

The vaccine measure, which was already approved by the House, would have ended families' ability to opt-out of school vaccination requirements for personal, philosophical or religious reasons. If passed, Oregon would have had one of the strongest vaccine laws in the country at a time when the national measles count has hit its highest in decades.

"This bill was about saving lives, protecting children and ensuring our shared immunity from dangerous and preventable diseases," said Rep. Cheri Helt, the Republican from Bend behind the vaccine proposal. "It's disappointing that once again the loudest, most extreme voices in our politics prevailed and the sensible-center and thoughtful policy-making lost."

Democrats also agreed to squash a gun control package that would have allowed businesses to raise the purchasing age to 21 and require gun owners to safely store their weapons. Both bills drew considerable opposition from a vocal Republican minority.

KATU News streamed (in part) the statements from the Senate floor ahead of Monday's vote.

Below is a statement from the Oregon Education Association on the passage of HB 3427:

Oregon educators are celebrating the passage of the Student Success Act today! After decades of holding our schools together at the seams, our state has never been closer to finally being able to afford to give Oregon students the schools they deserve. The next step is the Governor’s signature. The bill passes just ahead of school districts’ final budget decisions for the coming year, easing budgetary pressure.
"Less than a week ago, tens of thousands of educators, students, parents, and supporters gathered in one voice in nearly 100 communities across the state to call on lawmakers to do prioritize Oregon students,” says John Larson, high school English teacher and president of the Oregon Education Association. “Together, we are making history. Educators and public school families can start to breathe a sigh of relief tonight, knowing that instead of worrying about budget cuts, we can instead focus on the educational needs of our students and our future.”
“This $2 billion increase to the education budget means our schools will be able to afford to invest in students for the first time in decades,” says Larson. “Because of these dedicated funds, we’ll be able to give students more individual attention and smaller class sizes, we’ll restore programs like art, music, and PE, and we’ll be able to provide the mental and behavioral health supports our students so desperately need.”
The work, of course, continues. Educators will always stand united for students today, tomorrow, and every day.
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