Oregon Legislators Chase Nike and 'Win'

By Don Rollins

The late science fiction writer Robert Heinlein once observed that “[man] is not a rational animal; [he] is a rationalizing animal.”

Which would pretty much explain how Oregon’s lawmakers just signed off on a three-decade tax dodge for one of the largest corporations in the world.

While the rest of the state was gearing up for the holidays, all but 11 members of the Oregon Legislature and Governor John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, were putting the finishing touches on the present Nike had been hoping for: A 30-year commitment to keep the out-of-state tax exemption the company had exacted more than a decade ago – a quid pro quo that over a five-year period already cost the state upwards of $143 million in revenue.

The new deal, in part broached and brokered by Nike’s stable of ready lobbyists, requires the company to expand its operations (an estimated $150 million project) and create 500 new jobs in return for what’s termed the “single sales factor method” of tracking corporate income.

This means a substantial infusion of money and jobs is in the works; but it also means that no matter how many shoes and hoodies Nike sells between now and the middle of the century, the people of Oregon won’t see a nickel of revenue that wasn’t generated here.

To add insult to injury, the agreement is the next thing to ironclad as is; but assuming Nike follows through on the promised expansion and job creation, there is zero chance of adapting, let alone voiding, the contract.

To no one’s surprise, the state’s other large multi-nationals want to know when they can expect to get the sweet Nike treatment, Intel first among them. No one knows for sure the loss of tax revenue that will be lost in the likely event Salem will soon be deluged by Oregon’s other big employers, but Department of Human Services officials are already bracing for the worst.

Yet for all the obvious economic slight-of-hand surrounding Nike’s sweetheart deal, what’s most striking is the near-complete transparency with which even blue district progressives rallied to the capitol, fast-tracked the process and cast their yeas.

As Salem freelance writer Ben Schreiner phrased it, “…in the age of corporate power, the brazen blackmail by a private corporation is not held to be a disgrace, nor even the least bit troubling. Instead, it’s merely business as usual.”

Oregon is by no means the only state in which Citizens United-style, corporate personhood is fast becoming the norm; but it may be winning the race to the bottom when it comes to its shameless application.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Eugene, Ore. Email donaldlrollins@ gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2013



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