I've lived in Portland 30 years and sent my kids through Portland Public Schools. I am an advocate for a strong public education system. I've also made my living as an artist and strongly support prioritizing arts in education. Still, I have gnawing questions about Portland's art tax.
No one I know respects this regressive tax or feels it provides a just and sustainable way to fund education. Yet for some reason, the City Council has not stepped up and brought this unpopular tax to the voters again.
The arts tax was imposed in 2012. That year, Portland voters approved what many assumed would be a temporary fix, one that would sunset when legislators in Salem fixed holes in the education budget. Seven years into this endless tax, our naiveté is embarrassing.
We approved this special, single-program tax with a capped, 5 percent allowance for the city's role in collecting and disbursing the funds. But today, without voter approval, the city's portion (ostensibly to offset costs) has climbed to 10 percent, and there's no cap anywhere in sight.
Certain comfortable categories of Portland taxpayers (PERS, federal retirees and others) are entirely exempt from paying this tax, while other wage earners and retirees have no option. This is not the city's fault, but the inequity is glaring nonetheless.
Funding our children's educational curricula class by class, as Portland is doing, by imposing special taxes to support popular programs, is truly absurd, no matter how important those programs may be. The future of our kids and our state depends on providing a rich array of educational resources and opportunities to all our children.
However, if we're to continue hobbling along with this broken special-tax funding model, it is incumbent on the City Council to present voters with an option to approve restructuring this to be a fair, progressive tax with reality-based income bracketing and exemptions.
Two specific questions to the council today include:
What steps is the council taking to present voters with a restructured tax with fair, progressive brackets, rather than the grossly regressive current model?
By what moral or ethical standard is it acceptable that an 85-year-old Social Security retiree with $1,000 other annual income, or an 18-year-old student who's a part-time barista, or a minimum-wage earner who's working three jobs to raise their family — how is it acceptable that those Portlanders are required to pay the exact same dollar amount in tax as someone bringing in five or 10 or 50 times the income?
Isn't it about time to do something about this? This regressive $35 tax may not be the biggest problem Portland is facing, but it is a part of a puzzle. As our population grows, the economic and class divide in Portland is deepening.
Acting on this relatively minor problem now is one step toward stopping the nightmare that's unfolding in San Francisco from happening here.
Help out farmers with a carbon tax
I appreciate the letter by Jon Iverson in the March 11 Tribune, alerting us to the risk farmers face by rising fuel costs, especially if Oregon imposes a fuel carbon tax.
I grew up on a Kansas farm and knew the burden of fuel cost to my family. However hard that cost is for farmers, a much greater cost will overwhelm us all if we let the unbalanced economy continue pushing greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, owned and used by all of us.
We can no longer pretend there is no climate disruption. That disruption is driving our climate and weather into chaos, blasting wildfires in one place and torrential rains and floods in another, whipping up powerful tornadoes and hurricanes, drying out fields and grasslands, and covering us with record snows and freezing temperatures.
All this is hurting the folks least able to protect themselves; yes, farmers, too.
We must bring the economy into a balanced service for all. We must thwart the drive for ever more profit with no thought of the resources stolen from the people: our labor, our land, our forests, our water, our air, our good will, and finally, our lives.
A carbon tax is a good start, especially if the revenue is returned to those whose resources are being stolen.
And a large part of the balanced revenue should go to farmers like Iverson, who grow our food.
Use city taxes to improve pedestrian safety
The Portland Tribune reported March 12 that the city's PedPDX plan would prioritize walking over other forms of transportation.
PedPDX "would affirm walking as a human right and the most fundamental means of transportation."
I certainly agree. I moved to Portland from Salem over 25 years ago for the express purpose of getting rid of my car and using TriMet and walking for transportation.
The city's online transportation survey is very poorly put together. The map is faded, faint and unreadable.
The Tribune article reports that the city "lacks approximately 350 miles of sidewalks." What the politicians usually fail to mention is that new sidewalks, as well as maintenance, must be paid for by the adjacent property owners.
This is totally unjust. City taxes pay for streets and should pay for sidewalks, too.
One of the worst things about walking in Portland is the deafening traffic noise. An article at www.roadtraffic-technology.com reports that "Noise from road traffic is a major health hazard in densely populated urban areas and residential areas near highways, railways and airports."
The article there, "Turning down the volume on road traffic," says that "After prolonged exposure (to excessive noise), the impacts of annoyance, stress and sleep disturbance can cause physiological responses resulting in heart disease, high blood pressure and mental illness."
Portland needs to join with other cities and countries in implementing noise reduction by cutting down motorist speeds, using low noise road surfaces and other noise reduction strategies.
It's hard to pay attention to personal safety when the traffic noise is blasting and distracting.