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Another Portland Blog

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

 

When the levy breaks

An interesting post on Mayor Potter's tax proposal over at Jack Bog stirred up plenty of debate yesterday. 73 responses so far and counting. If it passes, City Hall will impose a temporary, four year 0.95% income tax to help fund its school districts. The proposal may wind up on a ballot in May or could be pushed off until November.

I attended Robert Gray Middle School in SW Portland in the early '90s during the height of Measure 5 and the ensuing fall-out. At one point we were herded into the gymnasium for an "assembly." For thirty-minutes or so, various PPS administrators and our principle showed us pie charts and pounded the fear of God into us. The message being conveyed was a simple one: if we didn't run home and nag our parents before they filled out their ballots, our teachers would be laid-off, our arts program would be cut, the basketballs in PE would be under-inflated, the sky would fall, etc.

The experience has left a bad taste in my mouth ever since. Every few years when school proponents roll out "the kids" in an effort to promote a tax levy or kill a ballot measure, I raise an eyebrow.

Potter's proposal comes on the heels of a "temporary" three-year Multnomah country tax levy. It was originally intended to get the school districts through some tough times and allow the state legislature enough to enough time to work on the budget. Three years later, nothing has been accomplished and now Portland, which isn't officially responsible for funding its school districts, is looking for a quick fix. If the proposal passes, the folks down on SW 4th will be allowed to change a city charter, enabling them to put the tax into effect.

Which, of course, sounds like a slippery slope. If this latest "temporary" tax goes into effect, it could very well open a Pandora's Box that will lead to future taxes and less reform. For over a decade, fiscal responsibility has alluded Portland's mayors and city commissioners. While there never seems to be any cash for the kids, they always seem to drum up funds for PGE Park renovations, turning the armory into a theater, a convention center expansion, a failed attempt to buy PGE, tax breaks for condo developments, the OHSU tram project, a future bus mall revamp, etc.

If Portland is already thinking about altering the charter for a quick fix, maybe it should be focusing on changing other parts of it and diverting revenue from pet projects to the ailing school system. While proponents would inevitably cry that this would take years, the city/county/state have already had 14 or more years to fix this problem. I've been listening to this debate since I myself was a PPS moppet. It's time to solve this problem once and for all and stop remedying the situation with band-ads.

If Portland has money for trams, it has money for the kids. $15 million buys a hell of a lot of chalk.

That's what I love about ol' Stumptown. It's capable of turning a die-hard liberal like me into a rabid, anti-tax "tightie rightie" in the time it takes to read a single Oregonian article.

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