By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
PORTLAND — Taxpayers will foot a $13,000 bill when lawmakers convene Friday for a special session called by the governor to consider a proposal that would give tax certainty to Nike in exchange for jobs.
That’s $13,000 for a one-day special session taking place about a month before lawmakers are to return back to Salem for their regularly scheduled session.
Most of that money will be spent on the lawmakers themselves, who get $123 in per diem for each session day in Salem. The rest is for printing costs, said Ken Rocco, legislative fiscal officer for the state’s Legislative Fiscal Office.
Lawmakers expect to push the legislation, which was announced by the governor on Monday in a hastily called news conference, in one day. Nike wants the Legislature pass a bill that ensures the corporate tax structure doesn’t change for the global company for up to 40 years. Nike is mostly interested in keeping Oregon’s Single Sales Factor tax, which means corporations who do business outside the state only pay corporate income taxes on the sales made inside Oregon.
Critics say this proposal, which gives the governor the authority to enter into tax-certainty agreements with companies creating 500 or more jobs and making a $150 million capital investment, is unfair to smaller businesses. The legislation does not add any new tax incentives.
Lawmakers who have to travel more than 300 miles for the special session will get an extra day of per diem — $246. And the eight legislators who were appointed to the Joint Interim Special Committee on Economic Development drew their per diem for a public hearing Thursday morning on the proposal that drew several speakers expressing concern about the influence Nike exerted to get land a special session for the bill.
“This should be everyone’s opportunity to bring jobs to Oregon,” said state Rep. Vicki Berger, R-Salem, a member of the joint economic committee. “If a business is in Oregon, they need tax certainty.”
Senate Republicans released a statement Thursday saying the legislation should apply to all businesses in Oregon.
“We are thrilled that this legislation will secure Nike’s presence and leadership in Oregon well into the future,” said Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day. “But if stability and certainty are good for Nike, they are good for dozens of other Oregon companies that want to invest and grow in our state. Predictability is a powerful tool to help a business expand and put paychecks in the pockets of Oregonians. Certainty should be available to everyone.”
The Nike legislation is drawing opposition from all walks of life, from conservative activists who see this proposal as picking winners and losers of the system to progressive activists who don’t think large corporations deserve government breaks. Occupy Portland planned to protest the legislation Thursday night, according to the Willamette Weekly.
Gov. John Kizhaber surprised most lawmakers by calling a last-minute news conference Monday to exercise his power to call a special session. He’s been in private talks with Nike over this deal for more than a month, and company officials said during the hearing their plans couldn’t wait for the regular session.
Kitzhaber said the proposal is being rushed because of Nike’s timeline and the possibility that the company could expand its operations elsewhere. Nike has not said it would leave if this proposal doesn’t pass, but that the company will definitely expand here if it does. Nike is expecting 12,000 jobs by 2020 with its expansion but the details haven’t been revealed.
Kitzhber said he would be open to considering legislation in the regular session that addresses smaller companies.
“I am very, very open to providing additional certainty and investment to the small business community,” he said.
The public hearing lasted nearly four hours with lawmakers discussing possible changes to the bill that would include a faster sunset provision from the 10 year that’s in the legislation now and a possible reduction of the contract length from 40 years.
Lawmakers will convene at 9 a.m. Friday and the legislation will be kicked back to the joint committee before going to a vote .
— Edited by Kelly Carson, firstname.lastname@example.org