Burdick: Funding stadium with baseball salaries a 'mistake'
State Senate Majority Leader publicly confirmed Friday that she will ask the 2019 Oregon Legislature to repeal a potential funding source for a Major League Baseball stadium in Portland — a tax on team players' incomes that could support $150 million in bond funds for the construction of such a stadium.
Speaking to the City Club of Portland on Friday, Burdick said she supported the potential tax when it was approved by the Legislature in 2003. The Portland Diamond Project, the private group working to bring an MLB team to the city on Friday, has said it hopes to use the tax to help finance the stadium is is planning to build in Northwest Portland that could cost up to $1 billion.
"Well, that was a mistake I made," Burdick said of her previous vote. "It is a non-transparent, one-off revenue source."
Burdick said that although she is a baseball fan, she believes the Portland group should come to the 2019 session and ask for state bond funds for their stadium along with agencies and other organizations expected to make such requests.
"I've told them to do their studies, and if they show baseball will help the economy, to get in line with everyone else," said Burdick, whose measure, Senate Bill 607, is co-sponsored by by Sens. Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham), Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), Chuck Riley (D-Hillsboro) and Rep. Susan McLain (D-Hillsboro).
After Burdick's bill was first reported by Willamette Week, John McIsaac, a spokesman for Portland Diamond Project, says the group opposes it and a similar bill being sponsored by state Rep. Tawna Sanchez (D-Portland).
"None of this $150 million bond currently exists today and won't exist until a team comes to Oregon and begins paying its employees and players," says McIsaac in a statement. "SB 5 [the original bill] also helps protect the State and the City of Portland from needing to raise or spend taxpayer dollars on a ballpark. This lets the teams themselves have skin in the game and help pay for a portion of the ballpark."
The group has agreement with the Port of Portland to negotiate purchasing its underused Terminal 2 along the Willamette River in Northwest Portland for the stadium.
Burdick was appearing on a panel titled "2019 Legislative Preview: Should We Fear or Cheer the Supermajority?" It refers to the three-fifths majority in the Senate and House that Democrats won at the 2018 general election. That will allow them to increase taxes without Republican support, if all of them vote as a block.
Also appearing on the panel were Oregon House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) and Oregon House Minority Leader Carl Wilson. Although Burdick, Williamson and Wilson were cordial throughout the presentation, they revealed partisan disagreements on key issues.
For example, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has proposed a budget with a $2 billion funding gap. A joint legislative committee on schools is recommending another $1 billion to fully fund school needs. Burdick says she assumes the 2019 Legislature will raise business taxes and, possibly, reduce personal taxes. Wilson admitted the Republicans cannot stop that if all Democrats vote together, but said Republicans will insist in "cost containment" measures, including reducing projected Public Employee Retirement System premium increases. Burdick said she did not think changes that significantly reduced the projected increases would be legal.
Williamson and Wilson also split over the Clean Energy Jobs bill Democrats are expected to pass. Among other things, it would increase the cost of energy to fund clean energy jobs training program. Williamson said the bill was necessary to fight climate change. Wilson said it would hurt people in "Red Oregon" — the parts of the state represented by Republicans — who have to drive long distances to work and shop.
Wilson began his comments telling the City Club members, "Red Oregon is the part of the state where you go to vacation."
You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the Portland Diamond Project here.