City council pushes back arts tax deadline, considers tweaks

City council pushes back arts tax deadline, considers tweaks »Play Video
The City of Portland wants to collect the $35 arts tax through online payments.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland city commissioners took the first step on Wednesday towards changing a voter-approved arts tax.

Voters allowed the tax in November, which imposes a $35 fee for all income-earning adults in the city living in households above the poverty line.

Mayor Charlie Hales has complained that certain parts of the tax are unfair. For instance, he said some people with low incomes who live in households that meet the threshold might unfairly be stuck paying the tax.

On Wednesday, the city council voted to review the tax and signaled they will give final approval next week to a change that allows people making less than $1,000 a year to avoid the tax.

They also decided to give taxpayers an extra month to pay their $35. The deadline was moved back to May 15 instead of the original April 15 date.

Money raised by the tax will fund 45 arts-related teaching positions at Portland schools, plus other art projects around the city.

Opponents of the tax say it violates a provision in the Oregon Constitution that prohibits so-called “head taxes.” That is a tax levied directly against people instead of property or income.

Critics also complain that simply tweaking the tax isn’t enough – they want it gone.

“Saying that this thing can be tweaked with, just this little thing, is like saying we could have solved the Titanic problem by having one more lifeboat,” said arts tax opponent Eric Fruits. “This is just one little lifeboat on a ship that’s destined for failure.”

The city council will hold another session next week to discuss the plan exempting people making under $1,000 a year.

More: City arts tax website