University of Oregon student works on corporate tax measure in hopes of improving higher education

When Amy Schenk started to work for “Vote Yes on Measure 97,” she was doing it because a friend asked her to.

But as Schenk learned more about the measure and its potential consequences, she said she was in the right place.

Schenk, ASUO local Affairs Commissioner, is involved with local politics that have immediate effects on students. She was in charge of organizing the protest against the tuition increase and helped found the UO Students for Tuition Transparency student group.

This time, the project is different.

Measure 97, or Oregon Business Tax Increase Initiative, is on the ballot this November as an initiated state statute. If it passes, the state will increase corporate taxes by 2.5 percent on corporate gross sales that exceed $25 million. The increase would translate into roughly $3 billion extra in Oregon’s general fund and become the biggest tide of new tax revenue in any state in the nation this year, The New York Times reported.

According to the language of the measure, the new tax revenue would go back to state spending on education, healthcare and senior services, but it does not bind the legislature to a specific plan.

The measure will not help boost state funding for higher education; however, Schenk says it will help increase funding for Oregon’s K-12 program and ultimately have an impact on University of Oregon.

“[The measure] will not directly affect students in higher-ed,” she said. “But our K-12 program is not ideal. With tax money that can help K-12 level students, hopefully that would give them a chance to go to universities.”

Oregon is among the lowest in high school graduation rate nationally — 69 percent in 2012-2013. Schenk said students have to deal with large class sizes that limit one-on-one time with their teachers.

“I want to make sure that students in Oregon are cared for,” Schenk said. “But the more I work on it, the more important I find [the measure] is.”

But not everyone is happy with the measure. Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce President Dave Hauser emailed chamber members last month, calling the proposed tax on certain corporations’ gross sales an “unprecedented tax increase,” the Register-Guard reported.

“After research and presentations from advocates, opponents and tax professionals, our Local Government Affairs Council and board of directors voted to join forces with businesses across Oregon to oppose Measure 97,” Hauser wrote. “Educating our members and working to defeat this measure is a priority for our chamber.”

He also pointed out in the email that the new tax revenue is not guaranteed to be spent on education, healthcare and senior services.

Oregon governor Kate Brown gave her endorsement to the measure via email sent to supporters in August.

“I support Measure 97 because there is a basic unfairness in our tax system that makes working families pay an increasing share for state and local services, including public schools, senior services and health care,” Brown said in the email. “Our state cannot move forward and meet Oregon’s growing needs over the next decade without a more stable revenue base. Measure 97 is an important step forward, and I will make sure the funds the measure yields go ­toward schools, health care and seniors, as the voters expect.”

Schenk said she has faced some opposition from businesses while advocating for the measure.

“I think it’s the misinformation that big corporations are sending out,” Schenk said. “Small businesses are scared that it will hurt them.”

Schenk is counting down the days until the election. “Fifty-four more days,” she said at the interview. “My plan is to spread the word and advocate students on every level until then.”

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Tran Nguyen

Tran Nguyen

Crime and Court senior reporter, specializing in sorting through non-interactive spreadsheet. Formerly reporting on ASUO, Housing and Construction.

Send tips to [email protected] Follow me on Twitter @tranngngn. K thanks bye.