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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

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.