Portland city commissioners will be presented with four options for changing the city's embattled—and yet popularly approved—arts tax during a work session planned for next week, the Mercury has learned, ranging from doing nothing to the $35-an-income-earner tax up to making it far more progressive.
The work session is planned for 2 pm Wednesday. It comes weeks after the death of a second and final legal challenge—lifting a cloud over the program and whether it was even worth trying to adjust. The Bureau of Revenue was told over the spring, after other questions about exemptions began cropping up, to return to council in July with a sense of how to fix the tax's lingering flaws and potentially raise more money to pay for arts teachers and arts nonprofit programs for kids.
Two of the scenarios expected to be presented Wednesday would take Portlanders' incomes into account, along the lines of what Commissioner Steve Novick has sought. The two proposals, to varying degrees, would transform the regressive tax into something far more progressive. And while it would raise significantly more revenue, it also would cost much more for middle-class families.
The other scenario, besides leaving the tax as is (and, thus, raising less money than expected) is to give it a minor tweak.
It's unclear how the city council will lean, and it should be noted that a work session is a forum for hashing out ideas and examining implications, not deciding on hard and fast policy. Whatever fix finally takes shape could look different than even what's presented next week. Essentially, the council has four things it needs to balance in making adjustments: achieving or surpassing projected revenue goals; making the tax less regressive for low-income residents; not giving middle class families sticker shock; and not changing the tax so dramatically that voters might need to sign off.
The sense in city hall, we've heard, is that commissioners are loath to send this thing back out to the electorate and would prefer changes that avoid the chaos (my words) of a new election. Some 62 percent of voters approved the arts tax last fall, even though flawed polling had it losing big and bad.