Earlier this year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that wage growth in Washington County was ranked first out of the nation’s most populated counties. While the report does not speculate as to why wages grow faster in Washington County as compared to others, a general explanation could be that the county has created an economic environment conducive to capital investment and expansion.

Based off programs passed in the early 1990s, such as the Strategic Investment Program (SIP), Washington County has experienced substantial economic growth. However, the SIP program, one if not Oregon’s only real economic development tool, is based off deferral of local property taxes. That is often a tough sell to local taxpayers when the revenues generated by income taxes benefit the state.

The Oregon Legislature passed a bipartisan program called Gain Share in 2007. The concept is simple: if a county or local government loses revenues from property tax abatements in order to generate new income tax dollars or save existing tax dollars, the gain should be shared fairly and equitably.

Through these programs, counties waive millions of dollars in property taxes to attract businesses development and expansion. The state then disperses the revenues received from income taxes as a result of the new jobs created. The program is a proven and effective economic tool for the state to incentivize counties to enter SIP agreements.

One of my top priorities while in Salem this year was to preserve and protect the Gain Share program, so businesses continue to stay and expand, creating high quality jobs and, more importantly, jobs within the many smaller companies that provide services and supplies to larger firms. This benefits the entire state.

During the recent legislative session, I fought to include our local Washington County schools in the Gain Share program. School districts in Hillsboro, Tigard-Tualatin, and Forest Grove have all acknowledged that they benefit as a result of the program. School districts have felt the growth from our efforts to save and recruit new jobs to the area. This growth is further evidence that Gain Share revenues could help local school districts provide a world class education for our children.

Some of my colleagues in Salem argue the Gain Share program should be reformed to reduce or limit county disbursements in exchange for waiving property taxes. They argue that counties that take advantage of Gain Share are vulnerable to an unsustainable source of money. I adamantly disagree with this notion. Gain Share, in conjunction with SIP agreements, is the single best economic policy asset we have to offer to new or expanding businesses. And, by including schools, we can assist them in addressing overcrowded classrooms as well.

Rather than narrowing the program, I believe we should be looking to expand this type of policy. Protecting and enhancing Gain Share through the Strategic Investment Program is exactly the visionary direction we should take. After all, don’t we really want to create and retrain existing higher paying jobs? That is what will really help Oregon and our children.

I expect the conversation regarding Gain Share to carry over into future legislative sessions, and it should. We need to consider ways we can improve upon the existing program to protect our local school districts and provide much needed capital security to county and city governments.

I look forward to continuing my work with other advocates of the program, such as Sen. Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin) and Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck, to defend and improve upon the single best economic tool the state has to offer.

State Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) represents

Oregon Legislative District No. 15.

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