Sen. Hayden: Tax credit to save local media

By Oregon Senator Cedric Hayden,

Senator Hayden Files Senate Bill 1104 to Support News Reporting in Oregon
Hayden says for more government accountability and transparency, a Media Tax Credit measure, like Oregon’s Political Tax Credit, is necessary to protect journalism reporting

FALL CREEK, Ore. – Senator Cedric Hayden (R-Fall Creek) introduced Senate Bill 1104, the Oregon Media Tax Credit bill, a proposal to provide Oregonians a dollar-for-dollar tax credit akin to the Oregon Political Tax Credit, when they pay to subscribe to any news outlet that covers Oregon news happenings.

The Oregon Political Tax Credit is a $50 per person, $100 per tax filing couple tax credit that most Oregonians see back on their tax return when they contribute to a political action committee for political candidates, or a policy issue committee that supports property tax or ballot issue measures. Hayden believes a parallel Media Tax Credit is necessary to encourage Oregonians to subscribe to media outlets and help defray the cost of news published behind paywalls.

“The media plays an important role in maintaining the republican form of representative government we enjoy in that it’s the role of the free press to hold government to account for its actions,” stated Hayden. “Now more than ever, we need journalism to thrive, and we need a fair, democratic way to give people encouragement to support local journalism in the same way politicians have carved out a way to receive tax-free political contributions. Having one type of tax credit that supports political speech while not fairly using tax dollars to support the free speech of the press which holds us accountable is no longer acceptable.”

Though late in the session, Hayden hopes the Media Tax Credit bill will be the start of an important conversation about how to support Oregonians’ ability to access news coverage that impacts Oregon.

The measure allows for $50 per person or $100 per tax filing couple, with no household income limits, to receive the tax credit when they file their tax return if they paid for media subscription services which meet the following criteria:

• The news outlet has to have been in existence as a registered business or nonprofit for 12 months or longer online, in print, or in some other media form;
• Regularly employs journalist staff that cover any news topic within Oregon;
• Is a qualified 501c3 news organization whose mission is to support professional journalism and public records reform efforts; and
• Disallows any advertisement of the Media Tax Credit by a person or organization not qualified to be the indirect beneficiary of the tax credit.

“This tax credit is about supporting the work of journalists who daily are working with thin staff to report important news that should matter to all Oregonians, yet because of the media models of paywalls and hard costs to report and distribute the news, like thousands of dollars spent in public records fights with the government, we see journalism reporting buckling under financial pressures,” Hayden stated.

“It’s critical that we ensure two things: that people can have an independent say in where they spend their media dollars (hence a broad tax credit with choice for the subscriber just like the choice they have in spending their Political Tax Credit) and that media outlets doing this important work are financially supported and can compete for those tax credit dollars by continuing to invest in journalistic talent and fighting the fight to get the truth about what’s happening in state and local government to the people.”

Hayden pointed to the recent spate of news stories by a small group of political reporters working to cover important topics but expressed frustration that there aren’t enough reporters to cover the thousands of bills in the legislative session that impact Oregonians. “The main story of this legislative session was about the recent walk out, but there were not enough reporters to really dive into the heart of the bills at issue, like House Bill 2395, the opioid omnibus bill that before being amended, would have set medical privacy down to age zero with no civil liability for harming a child. Those details matter.”

He further noted stories like the DMV data breach and the La Mota scandal as a reason to have a mechanism to support journalism. “We should call this the Sophie Peel Act,” he joked, referencing the dogged reporting by Willamette Week that shined a massive spotlight in the allegations of corruption by the former Oregon Secretary of State. “In all seriousness though, that’s the level of reporting we need all day every day in Oregon. The Media Tax Credit bill is a way to give people incentive to keep the Fourth Estate alive and well in Oregon.”
Senate Bill 1104 will have its first reading this week before the end of the legislature’s Sine Die. Senator Hayden anticipates bringing this measure back in a subsequent session.