Senate passes Ashland tax measure

SALEM — The Senate gave final approval Tuesday to a local option tax bill sought by the Ashland School District. It also passed a measure to invest another $100 million in non-highway transportation projects.

The measures passed with no debate as the Legislature rushes to meet a self-imposed June 29 adjournment date. Committees by and large have shut down, and floor sessions are extending into the afternoon hours.

Most of the major budgets have been approved with one exception, spending for human services, the second largest after K-12 spending.

The budget-writing Ways and Means Committee hopes to get that one to the floor by early next week.

The local option measure sponsored by Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, would increase the percentage of dollars that could be raised at the local level from 15 to 20 percent of state school support.

The bill also would allow annual increases of 3 percent until a district bumps up against the Ballot Measure 5 property tax limitation approved in 1990.

Ashland schools have relied on a youth activities levy approved by city property owners to fund extra-curricular activities. That expires in 2008 and the district will submit a ballot measure in the May 2008 primary to substitute the local option tax.

Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, who carried the bill, said 16 other districts around the state have local option taxes. "It has been especially useful for districts with declining enrollment, like Ashland schools in my (legislative) district," he said.

Unlike the current levy, revenues from the local option tax can be used for core academic classes as well as sports and special activities not directly funded by the state.

Bates said the bill "will not produce a system of have and have-not schools" but offer parity, particularly for more rural schools, to supplement the per-student funding formula.

Ashland schools Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said earlier one of the reasons the district wants to go with a special option tax was because of a constitutional cloud over a youth levy approved by Eugene.

The Oregon Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the Eugene activities assessment violated the school district's property tax limitation because it pushed it over the $5 per $1,000 assessed valuation imposed by the ballot initiative.

That wasn't the case with Ashland's $1.38 per $1,000 youth activities levy, but Di Chiro said the district wants to follow the spirit of the court decision.

Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, was one of five Republicans to vote no.

He said the primary beneficiaries of the bill will be the larger urban schools, noting that Rogue River School District, for example, has been unable to pass a local tax.

ConnectOregon II authorizes the issuance of another $100 million in lottery bonds for non-highway transportation projects, primarily rail improvements but also air, water and public transit.

In 2005 the Legislature initiated the program with the first $100 million and 43 projects were approved by the Oregon Transportation Commission.

This time, the money will be split between the five Oregon Department of Transportation administrative regions — $10 million apiece — and $50 million for projects of statewide significance. The Southern Oregon district includes Jackson, Josephine, Curry, Coos and Douglas counties.

The bill was a top priority for Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

Don Jepsen is a freelance writer living in Salem. Reach him at

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