Supporters of a proposed ballot measure that would place a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-added drinks sold in Multnomah County have added another use for the expected $35 million in revenue: Outdoor School
The proposed measure, spearheaded by Portland physician Gregg Coodley, would funnel tax proceeds through Multnomah County to pay for after-school and P.E. programs
administered by school districts, as well as jobs programs.
Now Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder
, who represents District 5, has proposed adding Outdoor School as a third use of the money the tax would raise if approved by voters. Burkholder says it costs about $3 million annually to run the week-long program for Multnomah County sixth graders. Two districts—Centennial and Parkrose—have already cut the program for finanical reasons.
“You keep what’s required and the other stuff has to face the chopping block,” he says.
Paying for the program with the soda tax seemed like a natural fit, Burkholder says, because Outdoor School focuses on getting kids outdoors and active, while the tax is aimed at curbing childhood obesity in Multnomah County.
The tax would pay for Outdoor School in every county school district, including the ones that had to cut it from their budgets.
"In a sense, it would be free to the schools," Burkholder says, noting that tax revenue would be combined with the Metro excise tax that already pays for one day out of the five of Outdoor School.
Burkholder has joined Coodley and James Houser, owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic, as the chief petitioners on the measure.
They will have to gather 16,851 signatures to get the measure on the November ballot and have hired the signature gathering firm Democracy Resources to do it.
Campaign manager Rich Rodgers says Coodley has committed to paying for most of the signature gathering costs.
In spite of the possibility of receiving up to $35 million per year, a Multnomah County spokesman previously said the county has no position on the proposed tax.
"Multnomah County does its best, especially in these tight fiscal times
where the bad economy is hurting everyone, to stretch our resources to
serve all of its residents. The board is careful and measured about what
goes on any ballot. This proposal has nothing to do with Multnomah
County, and we want all our residents to understand that," county spokesman David Austin says.