Pubdate: Tue, 03 Dec 2013
Source: Hillsboro Argus, The (OR)
Copyright: 2013 The Hillsboro Argus
Author: Walt Hellman
Note: Walt Hellman is a retired high school physics teacher who lives 
in Hillsboro.


In 1969 a Gallup poll revealed that 12 percent of adult Americans 
favored the legalization of marijuana. Now the figure is drastically 
higher with 58 percent favoring the legalization, including a jump of 
10 percentage points just this past year. Washington state and 
Colorado have now legalized marijuana statewide.

It seems the tipping point has been reached and it is a safe bet that 
marijuana will soon be legalized in Oregon. It is a safer bet that it 
will be taxed.

The property tax limitations of the '90s severely cut school property 
taxes in Oregon. Though state income taxes now fund the bulk of K-12 
schools, no dedicated replacement tax was ever instituted, causing 
the enormous school funding problems experienced statewide today.

Marijuana legalization is coming to Oregon. The drug will be taxed. 
Why not dedicate those taxes to schools?

The first thing to say about such a possibility is that even if 
realized it will make only a small dent in the funding lost through 
the property tax limitations.

Washington state, with almost double our population and with its high 
tax rate on marijuana, may collect $200 million per year, and 
Colorado is expecting to collect less than $70 million per year from 
its statewide measure (there are also local measures).

A substantial marijuana tax in Oregon might raise about $100 million 
per biennium.  While this sounds like a lot, it pales in comparison 
with the current inadequate Oregon K-12 biennium figure of about $5.6 
billion. Another comparison is that for 2011-2013, the Oregon Lottery 
gave about $360 million to K-12 schools, according to Chuck Baumann, 
the Lottery's interim public affairs manager.

So the marijuana tax would likely bring in less than the lottery, and 
it can't be looked at as "the" school funding solution, but it would 
be a real source of revenue to dedicate to schools and it might grow 
with time. It could help at the edges.

What are the arguments against dedicating marijuana taxes to schools? 
Of course, saying "marijuana and schools" in the same breath seems 
wrong. But remember, the question here is not whether marijuana 
should be legalized. That's likely to happen. The question is what 
should be done with the tax money.

If taxes are going to be collected based on what many would consider 
a vice, shouldn't those taxes go to a better purpose? And what better 
purpose is there than helping to relieve the awful school shortfalls 
that were caused by school tax cuts in the first place?

Some might advocate that the taxes go for drug abuse treatment. 
Perhaps a small portion should, but a better education system giving 
more kids reason to stay in school is terrific drug abuse prevention.

Support of school funding will make a stronger case for marijuana 
legalization but that support should be tied to a greater protection 
of children from the drug in the specifics of the law now being drafted.

While we are looking at making vice pay its debt to society, we 
should also look at raising the beer tax, currently under one cent 
per glass, and the lowest in the country, and also dedicating that to 
schools. A combination of these taxes could raise school funding by a 
more than a rounding error.

The notion of using vice, whether it be gambling, drugs, or alcohol, 
to support education may seem repugnant. In some ways it is. But 
voters have shown over and over that they will not support general 
state tax increases for schools. A dramatic confirmation of this 
trend occurred in Colorado's recent election, in which voters 
overwhelmingly approved a marijuana tax for schools (65 percent to 35 
percent) while on the same ballot they overwhelmingly rejected a 
state income tax increase to fund schools.

As sad as it is, the current generation of Oregonians doesn't want to 
bear the burden of increasing general taxes for schools. Until a real 
breakthrough comes, as recently occurred in California with the sales 
tax increase for schools, we in Oregon have no choice but to look to 
"sin" taxes people are more likely to approve.

Legalizing marijuana may or may not be a good thing, but dedicating 
marijuana taxes to schools certainly would be. Even limited help is help.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom