Portland City Council set to vote on income tax for arts

Portland City Council set to vote on income tax for arts »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland City Commissioners will vote on Wednesday on a plan to put a $35 arts income tax on the November ballot.

The arts tax would raise millions of dollars for the arts each year. It would apply to anyone over 18 in Portland who makes more than the federal poverty level, which starts at $11,000 a year for a single person without kids.

Supporters point out the arts tax would hire 68 arts and music teachers in Portland elementary schools. That's just over half of the $12 million the tax would raise. But opponents say the tax is unnecessary and question if it will lead other groups to seek their own dedicated taxes. They're also concerned with where the rest of the money would go.

"The real drive behind this is the money that will wind up going to other than the schools – the leftover," said Don McIntire, the president of Taxpayer Association of Oregon.

While McIntire doesn't live in Portland, thousands of his members do, and he says he thinks hiring 68 elementary school arts and music teachers is just a way to dress up the arts tax.

"It's a slush fund, another slush fund for the closely connected," he said.

Out of the $12 million a year, schools would get a little over $6 million to hire teachers and most of the rest would be divvied out as arts grants by the Regional Arts and Culture Council.

In response to the criticism that the money would only be doled out to the most connected, Mayor Sam Adams said it'll be a competitive process.

"Politicians like us, we don't decide where the money goes out of this fund," he said.

Adams is the chief proponent of the tax, arguing the arts are vital to educating children and to the community's well-being. He points out the grant requests would be peer-reviewed, not doled out as rewards for friends.

He said he won't be involved in the decision-making process once he's no longer mayor.

"I'm not going to have any role with arts organizations that benefit from this measure. Absolutely not," he said.

Adams says he expects the City Council will approve the proposal for the ballot on Wednesday.

The November ballot could be very crowded with requests for money in Portland. The arts tax, a potentially a bigger property tax for school construction and possibly a library tax could all be before voters.