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Audit shows arts tax is falling short

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The $35-per-person Art Tax is achieving its primary goal of funding art teachers in the public schools, but total collections are falling short, administrative costs are higher than supposedly allowed, oversight is less than promised, and fewer Portlanders are paying it than expected.

Those are among the findings of an audit on the Art Tax released by the City Auditor’s Office on Tuesday. It found that less than half of the promises about the tax in the title of the ballot measure approved by city voters in 2012 have been kept.

Broken promises identified in the audit include: The Art Tax is collecting only $8 million a year, not $12 million; administrative costs have exceed the promised 5 percent cap; independent audits are not being conducted on those who receive the Art Tax funds; and more residents than those below the poverty level have been exempted from the $35-per-person tax, including some retired public employees.

“After three years of collections, Portland’s Arts Tax has provided funds to schools and arts organizations, but implementation has been challenging and some promises (City) Council made to voters have yet to be accomplished,” the audit says.

At the same time, the audit says the $8 million a year is enough to guarantee one art teacher per 500 elementary school students in six Portland-area school districts — the measure’s primary purpose.

In a July 21 response letter, city Revenue Division Director Thomas Lannom says work is underway to address the issues.

“Implementing a large-scale income tax is rarely an easy proposition. This is especially true for a tax that is unique, resource constrained and has a high number of subject individuals each owing a relatively small amount of tax,” Lannom said.