SB 4: Equity Bling

Sometimes virtue signaling in the composition of legislation can get downright silly. In the current legislative session, senators Janeen Sollman (D-Hillsboro) and Tim Knopp (R-Bend) have sponsored SB 4 which directs the Oregon Business Development Department to produce a grant and loan program to support businesses applying for financial assistance under the federal Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America Act of 2022.

I don’t get excited about these kinds of bills. The right way to attract business is to be a hospitable place for investors. I’m open to seeing evidence that this bill’s subsidies will cause more economic activity than it will expend, but there is something inherently inefficient with being a state that is so hostile to business in general while arbitrarily bribing some firms to operate in Oregon. To attract more commerce, it’s better to just be a well-governed state, like Idaho, Utah, or South Carolina.

Yet this bill did catch my eye. In Section 1, the bill describes the type of projects that can qualify. In addition to the obvious, like the (a) “development of a site for a semiconductor or other advanced manufacturing facility” and (b) R&D “with respect to semiconductors and advanced manufacturing,” SB 4 also mentions higher education “for the purpose of workforce development and the creation of training, certified apprenticeship and internship opportunities, with respect to semiconductors and advanced manufacturing.”

But check out how the bill first describes higher education. Does it need to define this as colleges and universities? Maybe, but here’s how the bill’s text goes about it: “(c) Partnering with institutions of higher education, including, but not limited to, historically Black colleges and universities.” Wouldn’t a mere reference to colleges and universities necessarily mean historically black colleges and universities? Do we even have any historically black colleges or universities in Oregon? Are we supposed to capitalize “black” when used as an adjective delineating race?

This bill’s language presents a sign of the times. Progressives obsessively talk about equity while offering few policies that genuinely advance the lives of racial minorities. What we mostly get instead is this kind of equity bling: symbols and linguistic gestures.

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.