POLK COUNTY -- It would be like cutting Henry Hill Elementary
That's how much money the Central School District stands to lose
if Oregon voters want to fully deduct their federal returns on
their state income taxes.
The week after Halloween is going to be very scary for Oregon
schools. In Polk County, ballot measures threaten to slash
millions from school budgets.
Measure 91 casts a particularly ominous shadow.
"It would absolutely devastate our district," said Bill Layton,
the principal at Monmouth Elementary School.
The measure, sponsored by anti-tax crusader Bill Sizemore, would
allow Oregonians to deduct their federal returns on their state
Central Superintendent Forrest Bell estimates it would mean
cutting the district's $15 million budget by $1.6 million. "This
is a huge impact for a district like ours with limited
resources," Bell said.
Finding places to cut would be difficult.
Programs like special education and English as a second language
are required by the state and federal government. They'd have to
"What we would have to cut are our programs near and dear to the
community," Bell said.
That might include sports, music and other extracurricular
activities. Bell doesn't want to get specific. "We won't make
those kinds of decisions until it becomes necessary."
The Dallas School District would face cuts just as deep.
Superintendent Dave Voves said Measure 91 would cost Dallas
schools $1.5 million -- or 7 percent of the district's general
fund. Currently, the district gets $4,800 per student in state
That would be slashed by $455 per student.
The cuts would be ugly, Voves said. "You're talking a bunch of
programs and teachers."
And it would only get worse.
The cuts would grow to $2.3 million during the next budget year
-- or 11 percent of the district budget.
Those are all just estimates. They assume the Legislature would
cut education proportionately with all other state spending. They
also assume that the formula for calculating state funding for
schools would remain the same.
Oregon schools get 80 percent of their funding from the state.
That makes them particularly vulnerable to measures designed to
curb state spending.
Actually, Voves said, Measure 91 is not as scary as Measure 8.
That measure, drafted by Sizemore cohort Don McIntire, would
limit the growth of state spending to 15 percent per year.
That would slice the state's general fund by $4.8 billion. For
Dallas schools, Voves said, that would mean more than $3 million
Again, just an estimate.
A lot depends on how the Legislature deals with measures tossed
in its lap. "I have no idea how the Legislature will handle it,"
"If we have to cut $3 million, there's obviously going to be a
lot of programs going down the road."
Times are already tough for Oregon schools.
Gov. John Kitzhaber has told school superintendents to brace for
big budget cuts, regardless of what happens in November. State
government is looking at a $750 million deficit.
That's 6 percent of the total general fund or, if education is
somehow spared, 11 percent of the total general fund.
No matter what, budget committees and school boards are going to
have such hard decisions to make.
Voters might just make those decisions a lot harder, Bell said.
Measure 91 is one big mess, said State Rep. Lane Shetterly of
He may be one of the legislators who has to sort out the mess.
"There are several questions about the implementation of the
measure," Shetterly said. "The Legislature would take a stab at
trying to implement it, but the questions may be unanswerable.
"It might be referred to voters again."
Among other issues, the measure doesn't state when it would
become effective. It might become effective retroactively. Or
might not take effect until next Jan. 1.
It is a sloppy piece of work, Shetterly said. "Why would we pass
a law we know is unclear as to such an important piece of
Sizemore does himself few favors proposing such ambiguous
measures, said Shetterly. "You may like the intent of the
measure, but the fact is that it so poorly written that it
doesn't deliver the goods."
Measure 91 may well deliver the goods for big business.
It would provide the biggest corporate tax break in Oregon
history. State income taxes for corporations like Intel, Nike and
Willamette Industries would be cut by one third -- an average of
$150 million every year.
Critics say taxes in Oregon have already been shifting from
businesses to households in recent years. In 1979, businesses
paid 49 percent of the taxes in Oregon. In 1998, businesses paid
Opponents of the measure also warn that the measure would weaken
corporate income tax to the point where it would not be worth
Sizemore says he doesn't care about the effect his measure has on
corporate taxes. He just wanted to word the measure as simply as
possible, he said.
However, Sizemore says tax breaks for corporations can only
improve the business climate in Oregon.
Executives for the corporations themselves disagree. Leaders of
the high-tech industry have contributed $150,000 to fight Measure
That seems strange.
Intel would save $20 million a year. Intel employs 72,600 people
and is the biggest manufacturing employee in the state -- paying
$4.5 billion in payroll and paying more than $155 million in
corporate taxes in 1999.
Nonetheless, Intel executives say Measure 91 would gut the public
school system and erode their ability to hire and retain
Business leaders also fear the Legislature will look to them to
replace the money lost the ballot measure.
Corporations would be one of the few to see any actual savings
from the measure, Shetterly said.
Measure 91 would likely wipe out any surplus taxes. Oregonians
would no longer get an annual "kicker." In fact, the average
taxpayer would have to make more than $50,000 to see the first
penny of a tax break.
Only people with six-digit incomes reap any real savings,
according to figures from the Legislative Revenue Office.