Portland may create Income Tax to fund art

Bob Clark
Taxpayer Association of Oregon

Having nearly taxed the average homeowner up to the constitutional limits on property taxes, Portland City Council this summer expects to take up a proposal to impose an income tax on its citizens. The proposal comes from the Creative Advocacy Network, one of whose early founders is none other than Mayor Sam Adams. The Creative Advocacy Network lists the Regional Arts and Cultural Council as a member, and the latter receives funding from the City of Portland. The proposed income tax would raise $12 million to not just fund bringing back arts and music classes in some Portland Public Schools (1), but also Portland Symphony and Portland Opera among other high end public endeavors. Under this proposal, citizens with a modicum of income or more would be charged $35 per year and no doubt have to file yet one more tax form(s) in the yearly April 15th tax filing ritual (2). This income tax, along with the other taxes Portlanders pay but other cities do not, represents the continued dysfunction of the City that punishes its citizens for the politician’s inability to balance their budget.

So, to summarize: The everyday worker bee in Portland may get to help subsidize even more opera and symphony for Portland’s 1% who attend them.

I wrote Commissioners Saltzman, Fish, and Fritz to complain about this proposed new income tax and filing burden (3) So far only Commissioner Fritz has replied. Commissioner Fritz acknowledges the merits of my complaint but also believes citizens should maybe have the opportunity to consider the proposal, subject to her further review of the proposal and testimony. (Funny but you don’t usually see city hall give Portlanders the opportunity to consider tax cut proposals. If only I could get Mayor Adams to fund a tax cut study, too.)

The Taxpayer Association of Oregon can help defeat such new taxes. For instance, in May 2011, the Taxpayer Association placed arguments in the Voter’s Pamphlet against the $400 per year PPS property tax measure; ran a lawn sign campaign and sent tax alerts to thousands of homes. This organic resistance very likely swung the few hundred votes by which the PPS bond measure failed.

Join the Resistance: The Taxpayer Association of Oregon

(1) Perhaps because PPS has spent much of its budget on compensation packages now approaching $100k per year on average, per conversation with a school board member.
(2) Reported in Portland Tribune at following link: http://www.portlandtribune.com/news/story.php?story_id=133918581899392000
(3) I didn’t bother writing Mayor Adams and Commissioner Leonard as my personal experience suggests they love public spending too much to listen to someone advocating keeping to existing tax rates and forms.

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  • Rupert in Springfield

    I really don’t support raising taxes for dopey operas and symphonies just so those who wish to attend can pay reduced fair. There is something wrong about that, and that’s coming from an opera fan.

    That said, the music and arts situation in public schools needs to be addressed. There is something really wrong about cutting these classes. You don’t need to pay someone $100k in compensation to teach art class.

  • ShaneYoung

    The question shouldn’t be whether or not art is valuable or even if it is beneficial, in any way, to the public. The question should be whether or not the age old debate of “What is Art?” should be answered on behalf of the state. When we lose autonomy over aesthetics, we lose, along with our tax dollars, aesthetics. 

  • Ramalama

    “Perhaps because PPS has spent much of its budget on compensation packages now approaching $100k per year on average, per conversation with a school board member.”

    Can you provide more detailed sourcing for this? One unnamed school board member is not a reliable source for information such as this. 

    I found a figure of $53,796 for the average teacher salary at PPS. For the total compensation package to approach $100k seems unlikely.

    Source: https://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Portland-Public-Schools-Portland-Salaries-EI_IE234438.0,23_IL.24,32_IM700.htm

    • Bob Clark

      Yes, Ramalama.  The Portland Public Schools stated in the operating levy approved in May 2011, its measure (Measure 26-122) would raise $19 million per year and that this would allow it to fund an additional 200 teaching jobs.  This works out to $95,000 per teacher per year, and since last year a new teacher contract is in place allowing for cost of living adjustments and something like a 12% increase this year in heath care premium benefit.  So, this would take the figure up into the mid to upper $90k-$100k range. 

      The $53,796 figure you cite includes salary only, but another 50 to 55% must be added to this figure to get to total compensation per this “average” teacher (I am not sure this figure doesn’t also include part-time teachers).  But many PPS teachers are at the top of the contract rate, which is $73k per year plus benefits (which would bring them to just about $100k in total compensation per year).  In fact, Oregon Capitol News did an article (January 17, 2011) based on government obtained documents showing over 1,000 Portland Public School employees receiving over $100k in total compensation per year.

      I debated Ruth Atkins of the School Board in the lead up to the Operating levy, and during the debate I definitely recall she concurring the total compensation per teacher was in the $90k-plus per year range.

      It really isn’t the salary that’s out of line with respect to teachers and other public employees, but rather it is the large health and retirement benefits they receive.  I can tell you I have relatives working as private sector teachers with masters in education who make only about 80% of the salaries of comparable public school teachers; but maybe more importantly, they actually have to cover most of their health insurance costs and have no real retirement benefit that they don’t fund out of their own pockets.

      I’ve been trying to assemble a data base of comparable private sector teacher pay and benefits, but much of this data resides with the National Education Association and they have a price for this data (at least this was the case a couple of years back).

      Here’s the url for the operating levy (measure 26-121) with the $19 million dollar for 200 teacher positions figures (it probably doesn’t work anymore.   I still have a hard copy of the measure; and maybe if you contact the Taxpayer Association of Oregon, I can get you this copy.  https://www.pps.k12.or.us/buildings-and-teachers/5536.htm

      • Ramalama


        You kind of need to dig a bit deeper here, but it looks like there are teacher aide positions involved, as well as the 200 teachers, so that would make the total compensation package per teacher significantly less than $100k. Hard to tell how much, because I don’t see information there about how many aides are involved, and how much they’re making.

        • Bob Clark

          Thank you, Ramalama.  The wording of this PPS document says it “could” result in affecting aide positions.  Also, there is also a sentence saying, “it also would mean an additional $19 million a year to PPS.  That would fund an additional 200 teaching jobs, helping to maintain class sizes…”
          So, the PPS document is not definitive, I agree; and this is why I mentioned believing I had gotten confirmation from a conversation with the board member of a figure north of $90k.

          But I should do more digging on this matter.

  • Oregon Engineer

    Portland should go for it.  I think a 2% income tax should just about cover it and any left over could go to support the rest of the city’s activities.  This would be easy to accomplish as it would turn Portland into a ghost town.  last one to leave turn out the lights.

  • Tome

    The Arts are getting about enough. When they built the new federal building in Eugene several years ago. The building cost $400,000,000 to build. Ten percent was used for art in the building. That is $40,000,000 for art. Makes me thankful I do not live in Portland. Let the Opera people pay.The Symphony can pay their way too. As far as Public Schools. I am not sure if there is enough art to be wort while!

  • scatcatpdx

    I go to the Portland Baroque and the Portland Bach Vespers. This is evil to coerce citizens to supports the arts  especially in the case when the “art” my violate one’s conscience. 
    As demonstrated by the Pioneer Statute fiasco  Portland government has no business defining  and supporting the arts. It our job as private citizens to freely and voluntarily support the art of our choice regardless of content of the art.  

    • Bob Clark

      You bring up a good point, scatcatpdx.  I think also of the vibrant existing community centers like Multnomah Arts School which are bizarres of individual and group instruction in arts, music and dance offered to both young and old together.  In a way they are private instruction exchanges, where for a few dollars parent and child can advance their arts and music training.  This income tax would bleed a little of these dollars (at least “little” initially), but more importantly would divert some folks away from the vibrant community centers and back to what I believe is the weaker public school system.

      Here with this income tax idea it’s mostly focused on maintaining the existing public school monopoly (plus some direct or indirect funding swung to Portland Opera and Symphony).  It is very probable in my opinion that somewhere down the road when public education funding gets in a pinch as now, this income tax if it were to get passed; would end up going to compensating existing teachers with arts and music getting cut once more.  School boards tend to be weak negotiators because for one it is demoralizing to keep your employees wage and benefits frozen for years on end; so, like many employers, they give in to some labor cost increases even when they are at excessive levels.  Many other private sector employers and private industry are good at rationalizing costs; and delivering a product like arts and music at a lower price.

  • There is nothing wrong with this idea. Without it, how can these people get paying gigs?? Everyone is entitled to a living wage.

  • Just doing the Math

    It is not just the income tax for the arts going on the November ballot, but also the PPS school upgrade bond. I guess taxpayers must make
    the decision this November; do I keep my house, or do I continue to
    allow my home to be a funding source for,, what it is appears, nearly

    • Just doing the Math

      Excuse the bad grammer, “what it appears”

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