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Hales: Leave Arts Tax alone

Mayor Charlie Hales announced on Thursday that he will not propose any changes to the $35 city Art Tax.

The council had been discussing possible changes to the voter-approved tax because of questions concerning its disproportionate impact on the poor and other concerns. Commissioner Dan Saltzman had urged the council to leave it alone, however.

Hales has now decided to take Saltzman's advice.

“I had been leaning toward a major change, but Commissioner Saltzman’s argument changed my mind,” Hales said. “I now think: Dan got it right from the start.”

Revenues generated by the tax pay for arts teachers in the public schools and help support non-profit arts organizations.

The $35 tax is applied against all Portlanders over 18 who earn an income, except those who live in households below the poverty line. Some have suggested it should be more progressive, and the council has debated the issue.

But on Thursday, Hales gave the following reasons for leaving the Art Tax alone.

• It was passed by 62 percent of voters in November 2013.

• Voters knew the details of the tax – including the regressive nature of it – at the time. These details were reported.

• Plans to vastly improve the Arts Tax also would change the nature of the Arts Tax.

• Maintaining the tax as-is supports the will of the voters.

• Maintaining the tax as-is supports the goal of putting arts teachers in schools.

• Maintaining the tax as-is supports the arts community, although possibly to a lesser degree.

• Maintaining the tax as-is provides predictability for taxpayers.

Hales said he also supports the Arts Oversight Committee, which is tasked with analyzing the tax and making it work efficiently.

“The Council looks forward to hearing the advice of the committee,” Hales said.