From gas to homeless to schools: Tax fatigue in Oregon?

Civic Affairs

Tax measures dot the May, November 2020 ballots

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In the coming months, Portland-area voters will be asked to decide on a slew of tax measures, from the gas tax renewal to a Portland Public Schools bond. These money measures are headed to voters on the May and November 2020 ballots.

Lewis & Clark College Assistant Professor of Political Science Ben Gaskins told KOIN 6 News that, generally, Portland voters support taxes. But the question is will they feel some tax fatigue?

It’s a possibility, he said.

“I think that’s going to be a big part of it, but I think it’s blunted somewhat by the economy is so good,” Gaskins told KOIN 6 News. “Perhaps people are not acutely aware of their pocketbook and how these taxes might affect them.”

Lewis & Clark Assistant Professor Ben Gaskins in his office, February 7, 2020 (KOIN)

In May, Portland voters will be asked to renew the city’s 10-cent-per-gallon tax. First approved by voters in 2016, the Portland Bureau of Transportation uses the tax money to improve streets.

PBOT would like to raise an additional $74 million from the tax for things like paving, new traffic signals, sidewalks and lighting.

There are other tax measures voters will see on their ballots this year. Metro is discussing a local income tax to help the area’s homeless population.

Later this month, Metro Council will decide whether to ask voters in May to approve a 1% tax on people who make more than $125,000 per year, or couples making $250,000. But this wouldn’t be for affordable housing. It would be for programs Metro discussed earlier.

“There’s also services we need to provide for those with addiction and mental illness, services that go with the housing measure that have been adopted,” said Metro’s Jim Middaugh.

Portland Public Schools are also asking for money, in part to cover overrun costs from a 2017 bond. That bond is renovating or rebuilding several schools.

In November, voters will be asked to continue the existing tax assessment property owners pay under the current bond.

Gaskins also said when the economy is good, voters may feel good about raising more revenue to meet the goals they have as a society, such as homeless and transportation issues.

“When you have a series of revenue raising policies all on one ballot it’s possible that will present some problems for Portland voters. But that being said they haven’t voted down a tax increase in years,” he said. “So it wouldn’t surprise me to see with good targeted policies and justification for these tax increases that Portlanders will be more likely to support them.”

The first test for voters comes with the May 19 primary.

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