Sales tax opposed, even with exemption and low-income rebates

Commissioner Steve Novick released the results of new poll Thursday that showed Portlanders support a progressive income tax on the wealthiest residents to pay for street maintenance and safety improvement projects.

According to the poll, by a margin of 60 percent to 37 percent, Portlanders support the idea of an income tax of 1 percent on incomes above $125,000, 2percent on income above $250,000, and 3 percent on income above $500,000.

However, by a nearly identical margin of 59 percent against to 36 percent in favor, Portlanders oppose the idea of combining a 3.1 percent tax on business profits with a 0.25 percent sales tax to pay for such projects. The poll question said uncooked food would be exempt from the sales tax, and there would also be a rebate for low-income people.

Novick said the poll was conducted to measure opinions on alternatives to a street fee that he and Mayor Charlie Hales have proposed on businesses. That fee would be based on estimates of the number of motor vehicle trips the businesses generate.

"Some business owners were concerned that the proposed non-residential fee, based on trip generation, didn't take into account the profitability of the business. So we tested people's attitudes toward increasing the tax on business profits. The most common concern we heard about the residential fee was that it was regressive. So we tested new versions of the progressive income tax. We also tested a revised version of a sales tax, combined with a business profits tax," Novick said.

The poll also found that Portlanders are nearly evenly split on two other alternatives. One is raising the city tax on business profits from its current rate of 2.2 percent to 4 percent. The other is an income tax of 0.25 percent on incomes below $100,000, 1 percent on the amount of income between $100,000 and $250,000, 2 percent on the amount of income between $250,000 and $500,000, and 3 percent on income above $500,000.

Hales and Novick want the City Council to approve a Transportation User Fee in November that would raise around $50 million a year for street maintenance and safety projects. Three advisory committees are currently looking at alternatives. Novick says he expects them to take the results of the new survey into account.

But Novick said the strong opposition to a sales tax means it's off the table.

The new survey of 300 voters was conducted by DHM Research from June 19 to 22.

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