‘Come on down, Governor Brown’

Activists rally against governor’s special session

Oregon’s Democratic Socialists of America and the Oregon Poor People’s Campaign held a rally on the front steps of the state capitol building in Salem on May 21 to protest a special session by Oregon Governor Kate Brown, in which lawmakers voted to amend a 2013 tax law to extend its benefits to sole proprietorships.

Rally organizers claimed the law benefits Oregon’s wealthiest residents over working-class people by funneling funds away from social services such as schools and public housing in favor of tax breaks for business owners.

“We are here to let our legislature know that we will no longer stand for subsidizing the wealthy while our communities continue to be disinvested from and outright ignored,” said Portland DSA Co-chair Olivia Katbi-Smith.

“The main focus of our campaign so far has been around city budget, [but] we are now taking it to the capitol because the governor is trying to give tax breaks to wealthy business owners,” Portland DSA co-chair Emily Golden-Fields said. “Divestment from public institutions, education, vital services [and] good-paying union jobs from our state to give tax breaks to the wealthy is unacceptable…We need actual bold leadership; we need a governor and legislature fighting for working people, not business interests.”

On the steps of the capitol building, ralliers formed a crowd of over 120 people chanting, “Fight poverty, not the poor,” and “Everybody has a right to live.” A series of speeches were followed by a satirical skit starring Sheena Sisk of Portland Tenants United as Governor Brown.

“We are trying to change the conversation around wealth and end the decade of austerity and neo-liberal policy that our state has brought us,” said Portland DSA Co-chair Olivia Katbi-Smith in a speech. “[The state has] continued to disinvest for decades from our communities, jobs, housing, from immigrant and refugee services [and] from necessary services that communities rely on, so we’re here to push back on that and say enough is enough.”

On April 6, Brown announced she would sign Senate Bill 1528, which would disqualify certain Oregon businesses from a 20 percent deduction included in the federal tax code. On the same day, she announced she would convene Monday’s special session with the goal of passing a proposal to expand lower tax rates to sole proprietorships—businesses run by a sole owner—which were excluded from the original law.

According to Brown, this proposal aims to help level the playing field for sole proprietorships—which she referred to in an official proclamation as “Oregon’s smallest businesses”—by allowing them to take advantage of the same tax breaks that many other businesses already do. Rally organizers disagree, referring to Brown’s proposal in a press release as “Nothing short of class warfare against the working people of Oregon.”

Portland DSA has developed its own tax proposal—known as the Tax the Rich plan—which includes a two percent tax on annual income over $250,000 and up to eight percent on individuals making more than $1 million per year. According to the proposal, total revenue from this plan could add up to $114 million in the City of Portland alone and up to $225 million in the greater metropolitan area.

Addressing the crowd, Policy Analyst for the Oregon Center for Public Policy Daniel Hauser focused on income inequality. “The typical Oregonian would have to work for over 120 years to equal [what] many Oregonians earn in a single year,” he said. “Seventy percent of the benefits from our existing tax policy benefits folks making over half a million dollars a year.”

Following the speeches, the ralliers filed into the capitol building, forming a circle in the lobby and chanting “Come on down, Governor Brown.” Despite the protest, however, Brown’s proposal passed 51-8 in the House of Representatives and 18-12 in the Senate.

“The working class and the poor in Oregon are being crushed under the austerity from years of disastrous neoliberal economic policy,” Golden-Fields said. Katbi-Smith added, “It’s time to tax the rich and fully fund our state.”