The Student Success Act, a tax bill to pay for ambitious education reforms in Oregon, passed the state House on Wednesday in a party-line vote.
Hours of debate and deliberation ended when lawmakers approved the measure 37-21. It now goes to the Senate.
Democrats took to the floor to talk about how the state has ignored issues like education for too many years. Republicans said the tax proposal will hurt rural and working-class residents.
The votes were likely counted before the floor session started Wednesday morning, but that didn’t stop the debate from stretching over six hours.
It started when Republicans suspended standard protocol. That move meant the clerk had to read the 45-page bill aloud.
Under the bill, businesses would pay a tax of about half a percent on gross sales in Oregon over $1 million. Businesses can deduct 35 percent of either labor or production costs. The deal came together Monday, shortly before HB 3427 passed out of committee.
The proposal was born out of a bipartisan committee that toured the state to find out what ails Oregon’s education system. Lawmakers found large classrooms and tight budgets. They found homeless and hungry students. They found too few resources going to early learning and mental health.
“The bill before you is the policy response for what we heard and saw throughout the state,” said state Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland.
Despite those efforts, the bill still caused a strong partisan divide.
Republicans described it as a “hidden sales tax,” a resurrection of a similar tax rejected by voters in 2016.
They said it will hurt businesses, and the tax will be passed on to consumers. Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, said it’s “unaffordable, ineffective and lacks transparency.”
While the bill provides funding that must be spent on education, many Republicans said the plan just opens the door for general fund money currently going to education to be diverted to pay for the ballooning debt in the state’s public employee pension system.
Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, called that the “$26 billion gorilla” not being addressed.