A new survey shows potential support in Oregon for tax increases — if the money is clearly dedicated to education.
The poll from the Oregon School Boards Association finds two-thirds of respondents would back a corporate tax increase if the money were certain to fund public schools.
"What the poll did show is that Oregonians are willing to take a tax vote to increase taxes on large businesses, so long as it's dedicated to K-12 schools," OSBA Director Jim Green said at a Salem press conference Monday. "I think that provides a path forward for this Legislature."
Gov. Kate Brown's recommended budget contemplates revenue increases to help fund K-12 schools and other state services. Legislative budget leaders drafted a budget framework that did not assume tax rates would rise. Both budget proposals are wrestling with a projected budget gap of $1.6 billion as costs of state services and pensions outpace tax revenue.
The OSBA poll found a slim majority of voters support balancing the state budget by decreases in spending rather than by increasing taxes. Fifty-four percent of respondents preferred using spending cuts, either mostly or entirely, to balance the budget.
The poll results come four months after Oregon voters trounced Measure 97 — an initiative aimed at raising $6 billion in revenue through a tax on large corporations. Green said the poll suggests Oregonians believe large businesses should pay more in taxes, but only if it would cost less than Measure 97's proposed price tag and the revenue is dedicated to education.
"I think if we were to re-run a ballot Measure 97, even at a smaller amount, if it wasn't dedicated to K-12 education it would be very difficult to pass in this state," Green said.
The dedicated tax Green describes found support with 65 percent of poll respondents. But "fully funding K-12 education" slips to 56 percent support when a $2 billion price tag is attached.
The poll found potential support for other types of tax increases, again, if they were connected to public education: 61 percent support diverting the personal income tax kicker to a K-12 rainy day fund, and 51 percent support for increasing personal income taxes, if the money would prevent teacher layoffs and maintain class sizes.
Green said his group didn't poll on the best ways to cut spending because those questions would have made the phone survey too long.
Portland Business Alliance President Sandra McDonough said spending cuts are precisely where Oregon should look for education funding, rather than new taxes.
"Since 2011, Oregon tax revenues have been increasing faster than almost any other state," McDonough said in a statement. "The current $1.7 billion shortfall stems from rapidly rising government spending — not a lack of taxpayer dollars."
Polling firm DHM Research questioned 600 people last month on landline and mobile phones. The survey has a 4 percent margin of error.