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Following Oregon's Lead?

Other states may look for new revenues to protect education

By Tim Walker

The success of Oregon’s ballot measures 66 and 67 to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations may have national implications, as other states may try to duplicate the effort.

By Tim Walker

In a statewide referendum on Tuesday, Oregonians voted to raise the corporate minimum tax from $10 to $150 and increase the tax rates on household income above $250,000 – all to raise critical revenue for schools, health care, and public safety.

The voters understood, explained Oregon Education Association President Gail Rasmussen, that “dollar for dollar, education is the best investment Oregon can make.”

The vote surprise and baffled some observers who were convinced that a grumpy and restless public had no stomach for new taxes or government spending. The message out of Oregon was loud and clear: government must continue to provide critical services, including public education, and, what’s more, it’s high time corporations and the wealthy to pitch in a little more.

If voters in Oregon were willing to impose taxes on big corporations and the wealthy while average people are struggling, might other states follow suit?

In neighboring Washington, Governor Chris Gregoire praised Oregon voters for approving the tax hikes - a decision that bolsters her move to raise taxes in her own state.

“It is gratifying to see that the public understands the importance of preserving services to the most needy and providing education to the next generation — especially now when those efforts are most needed," Gregoire said.

The Washington Education Association is a member of the Rebuilding our Economic Future coalition, which is encouraging legislators to approve new revenue to tackle a $2.6 billion budget shortfall.

On Thursday, the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) released a proposal that, similar to Oregon, would increase income taxes on the state’s wealthiest individuals and corporations to bolster public education in the state.

“We need progressive, not regressive ideas to generate more revenue to provide our citizens with the services they need,” said HSTA President Wil Okabe. “By collecting tax, the government can put these dollars back into our economy to build a stronger future.”

Campaigns in these and other states would also be smart to look at the tactics of Oregon’s Say Yes to 66 and 67 campaign. Proponents were careful to craft their message to emphasize how budget cuts were threatening ordinary people. They, instead of politicians, were the faces of the campaign.

Sandeep Kaushik, leader of the Rebuilding Our Economic Future Coalition, believes the message sent by Oregon voters will resonate in Washington.

“Oregon voters are a lot like Washington voters. We both recognize that deep cuts to health care and education would be devastating to those hit hardest by the recession, would destroy our quality of life, and would hurt our ability to rebuild the economy.”


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