Bill of the Week: Senate Bill 595
Chief Sponsor: Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose)
What Problem It Seeks to Solve: Much of Oregon is short on affordable housing. In the metro area, bonding is an option to pay for it—but in tourist areas, like the coast, the property tax base is small and the economy is uncertain. In Lincoln County, nearly 20 percent of public school students meet the federal definition for homelessness. In Tillamook County, for instance, vacation rentals are growing faster than new construction, meaning the housing supply is actually shrinking and tourism-related employers can't find workers because there's no place for them to live. "The coast has experienced so much love, we're not able to take care of the visitors we have," Johnson testified last week.
What the Bill Would Do: A 2003 law pushed by the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association locked into statute a formula that said 70 percent of any new or increased transient lodging taxes (i.e., hotel taxes) must be used to support tourism and 30 percent could be used for general government. SB 595 would reduce the share that must be spent to promote tourism from 70 percent to 40 percent and would allow local governments to shift the difference of 30 percentage points to affordable housing. (This could also aid Multnomah County with a previously reported plan to dedicate some local lodging taxes to homeless services.)
Who Supports It: Multnomah and Tillamook counties; coastal employers, including Tillamook Creamery and Pacific Shellfish; 1000 Friends of Oregon.
Who Opposes It: The Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association; Travel Salem; Oregon destination marketing organizations. Groups that promote tourism acknowledge the need for more housing for workers but question whether reducing efforts to attract tourists is a good idea.