Not a penny of the Multnomah County income tax has been collected, and already they're talking rebates.
Today comes news that there's more money for education in the governor's budget than county officials were expecting when they set the 1.25 percent tax rate. Speculation is that the county will rebate some of the tax if the state money comes through and income tax collections are as projected. One sobering note, however: at least one school official shares my suspicion that many county residents will refuse to pay the tax, thus requiring the county to chase them down.
Meanwhile, over the weekend we all shed a collective tear for the people who are going to get socked with both the new Multnomah County income tax and the Beaverton property tax increase. There are these quirky little pockets of Multnomah County that lie in the Beaverton School District. So some west siders will have to pay both taxes. The county commissioners say they'll try to work out some kind of rebate system for the folks who get tagged twice.
I'm not real enthusiastic about any of these rebate ideas. For one thing, they're expensive to administer. Also, they often don't work as intended -- for example, by the time the rebate goes out to the taxpayer, he or she is dead, or a rebate check goes out to a once-married couple who's no longer married, and one ex-spouse steals the other's share.
More importantly, the rebates send a signal to the public that the tax system is constantly in play, and that somehow there's a God-given right not to pay if there's no immediate benefit to the taxpayer. That's just plain foolish, as the Legislature is now acknowledging in reconsidering the state's silly and harmful income tax "kicker" program. (About which, by the way, Emma said some right-on things Sunday in The Oregon Blog.)
Like the state, the county and the schools should have modest, wisely invested cash reserves -- rainy day funds, as they're popularly known. If the county income tax allows these to come into being, I'm all for it.
As for the folks paying both taxes, I have a little sympathy, but not much. They got to vote on both taxes, and if they voted against them, they lost fair and square. Sure, they're paying to support more than one school district, but every homeowner in Multnomah County pays both a school district property tax and county taxes (property and now income) that also wind up in school coffers. The folks out on the Beaverton line who are complaining now don't pay any Washington County taxes that find their way to the Beaverton schools. The fact that both levels of tax went up at once is interesting, but it's not the most compelling case ever made for a tax rebate. Besides, the income tax is going to pay for things other than schools, which as Multnomah County residents these folks will be entitled to enjoy.
My advice to the county: Keep it all, we're going to need it.