Portlanders: yard signs to say No to higher taxes

by Bob Clark

Free Yard Signs for Portlanders Who Want to Say No to Higher Local Taxes (see last section)!

Portland/Multnomah Residents Prepare to Vote on Three Local Tax Measures this November

Those of us living in the city of Portland will be voting this November on three tax measures with a total cost of $345 for the average homeowner/household per year.

  1. Measure 26-146, Portland city hall’s so-called arts income tax, represents a total annual cost of around $70 per average household size (or $35 per adult person).
  2. Measure 26-144, Portland Public Schools’ Construction Bond Tax, represents almost $210 for the average homeowner.
  3. Finally, Measure 26-143, the permanent library district tax, represents an increase over the current library operating levy of about $65.

These three measures together represent about an 8 to 9 percent increase over last year’s average property tax bill.  This comes at a time when average incomes continue to stagnate, and actually decline when adjusted for inflation.  The U.S Census Bureau estimates both Multnomah County and Oregon lost between $1,000 and $2,000 in real median household incomes last year (“Poverty rises, earnings fall in Oregon last year, ACS data shows,” Oregonian, September 21, 2012).

In my opinion, Local government has failed (1) to judiciously budget scarce resources and (2) to foster truly sustainable economic growth  (that which does not depend on government subsidies); and that therefore, voters should not reward local government office holders by passing these measures.  (As for the issue of assisting the children, the ultimate way to help children and their parents is to release them and their public dollars from the public school monopoly.  Other states are trending this way.)

Let me summarize each of the three measures.

Measure 26-146:  The Arts Income Tax

This measure would levy a $35 tax per year on all city of Portland adult residents with the exceptions of those living in poverty or those with absolutely not one penny of income.  Eighty four to eighty five percent of all Portland adult residents are projected by the City to be charged this $35 tax; while the other 15 to 16%, who would not be levied the tax, will be required to prove they live in a household with less total income than stipulated by federal poverty thresholds, or that they had absolutely not one penny of income.  So, if you are a stay-at-home spouse, not living in a household below the poverty threshold, and made a few cents off a checking account with no other income, you would still have to pay the $35 tax; same goes for the living-at-home college student who maybe earned a buck or two mowing a lawn.  So, it is a regressive tax.  It is heavily touted that the Measure’s tax revenues will be used to hire more arts and music teachers in City public schools.  But nearly half the tax revenues are forecast to be kept by the City’s surrogate Art agency, which is the Regional Arts and Cultural Council (RACC).  A review of IRS filings and annual report for RACC reveal it is already flush with funding, with funding growing almost 6% per year from the year 2006 through 2010; and the annual report for 2011 suggests revenues for RACC climbed almost 17% last year alone.

In summary, Measure 26-146 in my view is the worst of the three tax measures just in principle, because it is not only regressive in form but is also very much a Trojan horse (where children are used to sell the tax measure to voters but later City hall enlarges the tax for other purposes).  Eric Fruits, economist extraordinaire, runs the website No Head Tax (http://www.noheadtax.com/) dedicated to informing the public about the pitfalls of Measure 26-146.  I encourage you to visit this website.

Measure 26-144:  Portland Public Schools’ Construction Bond Tax

This measure would charge owners of real estate property, within the Portland Public School District, $1.10 per $1,000 in Tax Assessed Value.  So, if you are a homeowner with an average tax assessed value home of $190,000 (or thereabouts), about $210 would be added to your annual property tax bill.  I plan to vote No on this measure but I am not vigorously opposing it.  Again, I prefer decentralization of education by making each child and associated parent’s public education dollars truly portable (in other words, “School Choice”) rather than re-affirming through this measure the legacy of the “bricks and mortar” public school monopoly.  It is also rather odd the bond size is not much less than the last bond measure (defeated little over a year ago), and yet the schools targeted for rebuilding have changed significantly between this and the last measure.  There are, also, significantly fewer schools targeted for rebuilding.  This should give us pause as to Portland Public Schools’ management where plans seem to be without sufficient anchor.  A more competitively supplied education market I believe would bring about better school management.

Measure 26-143:  The Permanent Library District Tax

This measure would charge owners of real estate property, within Multnomah County, an increase of 35 cents per $1,000 in Tax Assessed Value (TAV); over the existing library levy of 89 cents per $1k in TAV.   So, if you are a homeowner with an average TAV home of $190,000, your property tax bill would increase about $65.  I plan to vote NO on this measure.  But you should expect this measure to pass easily, as there is an unquestioning love of anything library in Multnomah County (generally speaking).   I have two problems with Multnomah’s library system.  (1) It should be more user-fee based, and (2) it should be run by private vendors rather than public workers sporting escalating PERS costs.  As to the first problem (lack of user-fee based system), it seems rather unfair to tax those who have little use for libraries (like me) for library services heavily used by others, many of whom are of ample means.  There may also be an efficiency loss in offering library services for free.  As to the second problem (uncompetitive staffing), I suspect we are paying too much in taxes for the library services provided.  Cascade Policy Institute I think I recall recommended Multnomah County government at least explore contracting out library staffing and operations as a means to reduce the public cost of its libraries.  To my knowledge, Multnomah County has not researched contracting out library staffing and operations.

Design of Yard Signs Recommending No Votes on new City of Portland/Multnomah Taxes: 


Where may you get one of these free Yard Signs?

  1. Executive Club Meeting, Shilo Hotel Portland Airport, Wednesday, October 3d, 6pm to 8:15pm.
  2. Or, contact the Taxpayer Association of Oregon, 503-603-9009.