Nike’s tax breaks make playing field uneven


Growing up in Medford, Ore., there was legend of the “Three Bears” — the Three Lava Bears. In 1952 students Al Burmeister, Jack Sheffold and Dean Benson from Bend High School coached by Bud Robertson won the Oregon championship in track and field.

Benson went on to coach at Medford, both track and field and football with Fred Spiegelberg. You could see them from the stands pacing the sidelines, Spiegelberg’s staccato rising to the bleachers. They coached great teams and individuals.

Other Oregon coaching legends must come to mind, Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight, founders of Nike. These legends and many of their players help us appreciate the expression “larger than life.” And they embody sportsmanship.

Yes, we want jobs in Oregon. However, even if Nike is powerful and persuasive enough to convince the state to reduce Nike’s tax burden, Nike should itself realize its responsibility to be “first to the table” to pay its full share for public services.

Nike, its employees and its founders benefited and continue to benefit from public services, education and much more. Taxes reduced for one entity do not simply evaporate, they are reapportioned among other taxpayers. If taxes are enough to cause Nike to relocate, that’s certainly something to be addressed.

But shifting a portion of Nike’s tax burden to others is not a good solution. The playing field is no longer level. And I believe Robertson, Benson, Spiegelberg and Bowerman would all say that a level playing field is not negotiable, it’s a principle of sportsmanship.

Jim Rowan



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