Schools arent only winners with 26-48
- Mary Bellotti
- Portland Tribune - News
Social services benefit from passage Ñ Phil Knight is another story
This week's passage of Measure 26-48 is being celebrated by supporters for pulling the county's public schools from the brink of disaster.
Less heralded, but just as significant, is the money the measure restores to programs for thousands of senior citizens, low-income families and others poised to lose medical, home-health care and other services because of state and local budget cuts.
It's hard to call these programs winners, because budgets remain below the levels of a year ago, even with the new money. But they're not among the losers, either.
Eight Multnomah County school districts will share about 75 percent of the approximately $135 million the measure will raise each year. Much of the rest will help restore a long list of services, including:
• In-home help and long-term care for senior citizens.
• Medical care, prescriptions and other help for the mentally ill, disabled and sick.
• Immunizations for children.
• More money for the federal Women, Infants and Children program.
Still, the measure shuts out more people than it helps, restoring only a portion of the money for people who lost services.
The county's Aging and Disability Services Division, for instance, gets $2.7 million of the $6.28 million that had been cut from its 2002-03 budget. The Multnomah County Health Department will receive $3.2 million of the $9.1 million cut from its budget to provide health care for low-income families, said Director Lillian Shirley.
'It gives us breathing room,' Shirley said. 'We're just trying to maintain a basic safety net.'
Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Portland area legislators and local officials hope the results mark a turning point in the elusive search for tax reform and a stable source of money for schools.
'This is the beginning of a debate about what kind of state we want Oregon to be,' Kulongoski said after the vote. 'As we go forward with this debate within our state, I will be helping legislators, parents, educators, nonprofits and business to come up with a solution for Oregon.'
Compounding some politicians' enthusiasm was the success of a property tax measure in the Beaverton School District. On Wednesday, representatives of 40 social service organizations formed a human chain through the state Capitol to urge more money for schools, social services and public safety. The results in Multnomah County and Beaverton were part of their arsenal.
On Tuesday night, Diane Linn, chairwoman of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, said: 'Today, we have taken matters into our own hands and bought ourselves some time. We now have to join with our fellow Oregonians and redouble our efforts in Salem for a long-term solution to the problem of funding our schools and services here and throughout Oregon.'
Whether Tuesday's election marks a turning point in Oregon's lengthy tax debate remains to be seen. But like all elections, it produced winners and losers. Here are some of those:
Multnomah County commissioners: Supporting tax increases is political death, right? Maybe not. Linn and the other commissioners may forever be branded as taxists. But they risked voter wrath and went out on a limb in putting the measure on the ballot. And the voters, for now, bought it.
Big money: Supporters raised $700,000, a whopping $5.20 per vote, and outspent opponents 70-to-1. But this was a ground war, not an air war, and it required the nuts-and-bolts work of getting supporters to turn in ballots. That meant volunteers making lots of phone calls and knocking on lots of doors.
Portland Business Alliance: The business consortium angered many members by supporting increased taxes in the middle of a recession. Many were mollified by the assurance of no increased business taxes, and the group endorsed 26-48, saying the business climate would get worse, not better, with further school cuts.
Younger and relatively inexperienced Portland teachers, county health and human services caseworkers: They would have been laid off had the tax measure failed.
Criminals: They won't get out of jail free. Sheriff Bernie Giusto won't have to cut 329 jail beds. The new tax also allows him to keep 14 law enforcement positions, enables drug investigations for East Multnomah County to continue and retains the county's truck inspection program. 'My view is the county's much safer because of the vote,' Giusto said.
Phil Knight: The Nike boss dropped $50,000 on the slate of four Portland school board candidates who campaigned on a common theme of opposing Measure 26-48 and of further reducing school funding. None of the four did better than third place in their respective districts.
Equalization: A few cracks are showing in Oregon's efforts to make sure poor school districts are treated as fairly as rich ones. Multnomah County and the Beaverton schools are getting more aggressive about paying for programs the state can't provide. But Don McIntire, president of the Taxpayer Association of Oregon, says the political climate hasn't changed, that rural legislators won't feel extra pressure to raise taxes because of the vote in Multnomah County. 'Oregon,' he said, 'is still Oregon.'
The state treasury: As if the state weren't already short on revenue, Multnomah County's new tax will microscopically widen the shortage. Since county residents can deduct the county tax from their state taxable income, every county taxpayer will pay less in state taxes for the next three years. A family of three making $45,000 a year will pay $327 in the new county tax and $21 less to the state.
Tribune writers Don Hamilton and Todd Murphy contributed to this story.