Monday, May 27, 2013

With respect to taxes, Oregonians are laying in a bed we made

Does Mr. deLespinasse really mean to suggest Portlanders didn't know what they were voting for in the Arts Tax because it was too complex?  In the form approved by voters, I could tell you what any Portland resident's tax burden would be down to the penny just by asking three yes or no questions.  Try doing that with property, income, or sales taxes.  One can claim the arts tax is regressive, one can claim it is unconstitutional, but it surely is not complicated.

To the broader point of whether we have too many taxes, levies and fees, we're laying in the bed that we made.  Property taxes are the primary means of funding local services.  The limitations enacted by measures 5 and 50 arbitrarily restrict what we can collect in property taxes, ensuring a growing inability to fund service.  Every year we face the same choice of either finding new revenue through levies or fees, or cutting things that we used to take for granted.  Will it be gym class on the chopping block this year or the police mounted unit?  Will it be a fire station or another cut to road maintenance?  When confronted with the intolerable we turn to alternative funding.  If we can't fund services we want with regular property taxes then we fund them with fees, levies, and yes regressive and possibly unconstitutional income taxes. 

Oregonians are inventive, resourceful, and empowered by democracy to act on our interests.  If a service cut is unacceptable we will find a way to pay for it.  Adding more arbitrary restrictions as Mr. deLespinasse calls for would only encourage more bizarre assessment schemes and more hoops to jump through.  It would ensure our system of funding local service got more complicated, not less.

If we want a less complicated system the solution is obvious:  Reform property taxes, and allow them to pay for the things we want them to pay for.  What purpose has been served by doing otherwise?

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