Art tax legality to be considered by Oregon Supreme Court
The Oregon Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning the constitutionality of the Portland Art Tax on Monday morning.
Two lower courts have upheld the constitutionality of the $35 a year tax. It must be paid by all Portlanders 18 and older, except for those living in households with incomes below the poverty level or whose primary incomes come from certain government pensions.
Despite the exemptions, Portland resident and retired lawyer George Witteymer argues the tax violates the Oregon Constitution's prohibition against "head taxes." A Multnomah County Circuit Court judge rejected that argument, ruling the exemptions mean that it does not unconstitutionally apply to everyone. The Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling without additional comment.
Witteymer calls the ruling "political," arguing that all previous head taxes that the constitutional amendment sought to outlaw had exemptions.
"This is a wrong statement, a false statement, and an incorrect statement both factually and legally. It makes no sense. It is not legal analysis. It is poiitical obfuscation of the worst kind," Witteymer writes in his appeal.
The tax was approved by a majority of city voters returning ballots in the November 2012 election. It is intended to provide Portland schools with funding for art teachers that have been lost because of state education funding shortfalls. Nonprofit arts organizations in Portland receive some of the money, too.
As of December 2016, the tax raised nearly $9.9 million from the 2014 tax year. A little more than $1 million — about 10 percent — was spent on collection costs. Schools received 70 percent and the Regional Arts & Culture Council received 20 percent.
By 2016, about one-third of those required to pay the tax had not done so. On June 16 of that year, the City Council voted to refer those who owned more than $100 to can outside collection agency.
The Oregon Supreme Court will hear the arguments at Lewis & Clark College. To read the court's summary of the case and filings, visit tinyurl.com/hjcrq2g.