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A Tax Brings Arts Teachers to Portland, But Compliance Issues Cause Rifts

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Portland officials have proposed to stop disclosing the names of residents who pay the city's arts tax, according to Oregon Live.

The Arts Education and Access Income Tax, approved by 62 percent of Portland voters in 2012, was designed to hire arts and music school teachers for K-5 students and provide funding for access grants to small art projects and nonprofit institutions in Portland, primarily in often neglected communities.

Since the tax went into effect, the city has released a database of the names and addresses of residents who pay, but the city council now says the rule is unreasonable and is looking to change it.

Before the tax, Portland's school districts had a total of 31 arts teachers in their K-5 elementary schools. As of last year, that number had risen to 83. Although the money seems to be going where it is intended to, funds received from the arts tax have been below estimates, according to a report issued by the city's auditor. Officials initially estimated that funds would be $12 million annually. As of December 31, 2015, the tax has brought in just over $24 million of net revenue, with three-quarters of it disbursed to six Portland area school districts and a smaller percentage going to the Regional Arts & Culture Council, an agency that provides grants and services for artists, organizations, and schools in the Portland area.

The tax is missing its target due partly to the low compliance rate among taxpayers and the fact that the city is relying heavily on a system of voluntary compliance, as the auditor report notes. (In 2014, the compliance rate was 61 percent.) Early changes to the code and rules of who is required to pay the tax increased the complexity of collection and may have contributed to low participation.

The audit report mentions that the City Council and the Revenue Division will have to carefully balance the benefits of enforcement with the potential effects on the city's residents—it could increase collections and promote compliance, but could negatively impact residents' credit scores, for example. 

"In the case of an income tax, releasing names and addresses of taxpayers in not a reasonable expectation that taxpayers have," the City Council ordinance reads. "As such, names and addresses of taxpayers who have paid the Arts Tax should remain confidential to the extent the law allows."

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposal to change the rule on March 2.

Image via iStock


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