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Commissioner Steve Novick

Official Website for Commissioner Steve Novick

Phone: 503-823-4682

fax: 503-823-4019

1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204

Congratulations, Grant High Constitution team!

Grant HS GeneralsFor the second year in a row, a Portland school has won the national “We the People” Constitution Team competition. Last year it was Lincoln; this year it was Grant.

I had the honor of being one of the many judges of the Oregon contest earlier this year. I remember thinking - as I listened to the Grant team display phenomenal knowledge of and insight into the Constitution, American history, current events, and how the democratic process works or doesn’t – “I don’t see how anyone in the country can beat this group.” As it turned out, nobody could.

Go, Generals!

About that Arts Tax

Today (May 7) I was on OPB's Think Out Loud discussing the City’s Arts Tax. As you may know, I opposed the tax because it’s regressive – every person above the poverty level, whether they make $30,000 a year or $1 million a year, pays the same amount: $35. I believe that, whenever practical, taxes should be based on ability to pay. So although I support the goal of funding for arts education and organizations, I did not like the structure used to collect it.

Since its passage, the arts tax has run into a number of problems, including a legal challenge arguing that its ‘same-dollar-amount-per-person’ nature makes it an unconstitutional ‘poll tax.’

Mayor Hales has asked the Council and the Revenue Bureau to think about ways to improve the arts tax. My suggestion is to set the tax as a percentage of your Oregon income tax liability. Since the Oregon income tax is somewhat progressive, this structure would be somewhat progressive as well. Based on information I have received from the Oregon Legislative Revenue Office, in order to raise the same amount of money the tax would have to be about 1.5% of your Oregon income tax liability. The average couple filing a joint return would still pay about the same amount they do now - $70 - but a couple making $35,000 would likely pay around $15. But a really rich family would pay much more.

Since the voters of Portland approved the initial tax, I would suggest that any change also be put to the voters. That is not likely to happen until next year.

Meanwhile, please do pay the arts tax, because, well … it’s the law. You have until May 15.

The intersection of transportation and health

On May 29, 2013, Portland City Council unanimously voted to revise the City of Portland Health Plan and City of Portland Cafeteria Plan to reflect recommendations made by the City's Labor Management Benefits Committee and the Bureau of Human Resources. Commissioner Novick made the following comments in response: 

I just wanted to make a couple of comments. One is that it is an interesting coincidence that we were talking about transportation and now we’re talking about health and wellness, because there is a connection between the two and we should always remember that when we make investments in active transportation in Portland, we’re making investments in health. Meaning, in Copenhagen, where 40% of all trips are taken by bicycle, the government justifies their investments in bicycle infrastructure by the return they see in terms of reduced health care costs. So our City’s values, in terms of active transportation, fit in well with our goals in terms of health. I also wanted to say that the work that Cathy [Bless, the City’s Benefits Manager,] and the Labor Management Benefits Committee does is important, and it’s innovative, and it’s far sighted. I think that this City, along with some other private sector employers in the region, such as Intel, that are looking really hard at health care costs and innovative strategies, can be models and partners to the rest of the region. I think that this is an area that we can be very proud of what we have done and are going to do. So, thank you.

Listen to Commissioner Novick's comments here.