Why does Portland love taxes?

By Richard Leonetti,

One big reason for lack of opposition to new local taxes is a feeling by some that their vote does not matter. In 1998, bond measures for the Convention Center and Light Rail were defeated, yet both were built in spite of the peoples vote. The Convention Center was a dismal, expensive failure proving the people knew what they voted for even though their wishes were ignored. The taxes continue on.

Another possible reason is the very high proportion of state and local workers and school teachers who live in Portland. Not only do they supply the big money (often the only money) supporting these taxes but they have a direct beneficial interest in passing them. These higher taxes directly make possible their better salaries and substantial benefit packages.

I also wonder about the multitude of tax abatements (see Oregonian 11/9/08) used to support light rail development and for “urban renewal”. A new local bond doesn’t affect those who are paying only token taxes in the first place so it is easy to vote for. How many are there who have tax abatements? Before this last election, over 10% of the property taxes paid by someone living in Portland were for urban renewal. Overall taxes were even higher to replace the abated taxes not levied.

No Republican lawmakers in Portland give the Democratic lawmakers who like more taxes an extra loud voice. It is a lot louder than the 6 voices you might expect on a population basis. In 2000 the very partisan Secretary of State gerrymandered the districts in the Portland area in such a way that Portland effectively has 16 representatives rather than the expected 6. His slice-the-pie concept took Republican suburban districts and combined them with Portland areas in such a way that the Portlanders could outvote them. This gives you 16 people with a public pulpit promoting these taxes instead of just 6.

If taxes continue to increase, and Portlanders wake up to the fact their property taxes are higher than all the surrounding suburbs, they might just start to take a second look at all these increased tax proposals and start asking “Are we getting our money’s worth?”