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Eugene Weekly : News : 5.12.11

Spending Against Schools

Rich conservatives break records to fight tax for kids

By Alan Pittman

Wealthy conservatives have spent a record-breaking $97,000 to save themselves the cost of a local school funding measure.

Measure 20-182 would provide $16.8 million in funding per year to reduce classroom crowding and reduce cuts in school days in 4J and Bethel schools suffering huge budget cuts. Funding would come from a four-year city income tax that targets high incomes.

The tax exempts the poorest third of taxpayers, and the average family in Eugene would pay only $120 a year for the temporary tax. But rates would rise with high incomes. About 84 percent of the tax will be paid by the richest 20 percent, including about 30 percent paid by the top 1 percent with incomes over $500,000 a year, according to state tax data.

A political group in the Portland suburbs funded by big contributions from wealthy developers and timber barons, the Taxpayers Association of Oregon, spent $8,097 against the Eugene school funding measure.

Developer Steve Lee spent $6,805 to defeat the school funding. Alpine Building Materials, a siding company registered to Ron Hagen and Gordon Locke, contributed $5,000. Delta Sand and Gravel CEO Paula Babb and Murphy plywood owner John Murphy each contributed $3,500.

The Giustina land and timber company spent $3,000 to defeat the school measure. The Gonyea family of land and real estate speculators and Scott Williams, president of Hamilton Construction, each spent $2,500 against the school measure. Industrial Finishes CEO Stuart Barr, timber executive Correy McFarland and developer Doug McKay spent $2,000 each.

By far the largest contribution against the school measure, comes from a $15,000 loan from a group that could hide wealthy contributors. The "Healthy Communities Initiative” (HCI) is registered as a nonprofit to Dennis Morgan. Morgan was the treasurer of the Oregon Republican Party until this year and heads a wood treatment chemical company in Springfield.

State law requires any group or entity that makes an expenditure for the purpose of influencing an election to register as a Political Action Committee and disclose its donors. Morgans HCI does not show up in a search of the state PAC and contributor database.

Other large contributors to the campaign against school funding include $1,900 from insurance company owner Steven Ward, $1,750 from fire sprinkler company owner OJay Omlid and $1,500 from lumber and real estate company owner J.P. Hammer.

Contributions of $1,000 each came from: Starfire Lumber executive Foster Robinson; spine surgery center part-owner Glenn Keiper; Kernutt Stokes Brandt accounting; sand, gravel and land baron James Wildish; a company registered to attorney Rohn Roberts; O&S Contractors registered to Randall Gaskill; River Roofing owner Steve Davey; Tyree Oil owner Ron Tyree; Rosboro Lumber company; Cascade Title president Thomas McMahon; PeaceHealth executive Tod Woodard; Taco Bell franchisee Edward Weber and McKenzie Capital investments director Andy Storment.

Supporters of the Eugene school funding measure trail with $63,000 in a grassroots campaign with hundreds of small donors. Supporters received a third of their money from donors who gave $1,000 or more, while school opponents received almost two-thirds of their campaign money from $1,000 plus donors.

Local attorney Art Johnson, a part owner of Eugene Weekly, gave $10,000 to the school funding campaign. The Eugene Education Association gave $3,000, the Oregon Education Association $1,500, local Dr. Tom Bascom $1,150, Gail Wray of Idaho $1,000 and local Dr. Robert Pelz $1,000.

To fight the most heavily funded anti-tax campaign in the citys history, supporters have compiled a list of almost 500 endorsements including almost every local political and civic leader in Eugene in the largest grassroots campaign in city history.

The endorsements include Mayor Kitty Piercy, who criticized opponents for a misleading quote in the Voters Pamphlet implying that she and Gov. John Kitzhaber opposed the school funding. "I do not oppose Eugenes local option funding measure,” Kitzhaber wrote in a May 5 letter.

The pro-schools campaign gathered a diverse group of people to speak in support of Measure 20-182 outside Jefferson Middle School last week. "I strongly support the current effort to raise greatly needed funds for our local schools,” said Rabbi Maurice Harris of Temple Beth Israel in a letter read aloud.

Ron Chase, recently retired from helping thousands of people released from prison reenter the community, endorsed school funding. He noted that many convicts ran afoul of the law after dropping out of school. Prisons cost $35,000 a year per inmate plus even more in law enforcement, societal and victim costs, Chase said. "From my perspective, the choice is clear ã pay now or pay later.”

Heather Stillinger, a single working mom, said she worries about how her special needs daughter will succeed in kindergarten with 31 kids in her class and how she will afford daycare with school days cut if the measure doesnt pass. The mom asked, "Why would voters sit back and let this happen?”