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Protesters greet lawmakers working on Nike tax break legislation

A small group of anti-Nike protesters greeted state legislators coming to Salem for a special session Friday morning to guarantee Nike tax stability in exchange for expanding in Oregon.

“It’s really silly for us to be giving tax break to a large profit-making company that’s quite well off compared to so many other people,” said Peter Bergel, program director for Oregon Peace Works.

One poster held by a protester read: “Just Say No to Nike.”

Although only around a dozen protesters gathered on the state capitol steps as the 9 a.m. session began, more were expected for a noon rally to oppose the bill proposed by Gov. John Kitzhaber. He called the session after being told by Nike officials that other states were trying to lure the Fortune 500 company’s new jobs.

The bill allows the governor to negotiate a contract with Nike guaranteeing its state tax load would not change in exchange for investing a minimum of $150 million and creating at least 500 jobs in five years. Legislators are considering whether it should apply to other companies or be limited to Nike.

The special session appears on track to approve the bill sought by Kitzhaber to encourage Nike to expand in Oregon.

Members of the Special Joint Committee on Economic Development have agreed on a series of amendments intended to resolve issues discussed during Thursday's hearing on the bill. The amendments make several changes in the bill, including limiting to one year the time to reach an agreement with Nike or any other company. The deadline can be extended by the 2013 legislative session.

One amendment also eliminates the prohibition on companies entering into such a deal if they have received $5 million in tax breaks under the state's strategic investment program. That restriction had riled Washington County officials, who are in discussion with Nike officials about the possible job expansion. The county has successfully used SIP tax breaks in the past to encourage Intel Corp. and other companies to expand.

In its place, the amendment says that other financial incentives received by the company shall be a consideration in any agreement.

Kitzhaber and legislative leaders hope the committee will soon pass the bill to the House for a vote. If approved, it will go to the Senate and then to the governor’s desk for a signature.