Ripping off the renters
An interesting wrinkle in the new Multnomah County income tax has just been called to my attention by an irate taxpayer.
You may recall that when the county income tax was passed, a shrill cry rang out from the people whose residences fall within the county but in school districts that won't benefit from the new tax. Why charge us this tax, they hollered, when we're not benefitting from it? For example, there are some slivers of the county that are in the Lake Oswego school district. Those folks said they shouldn't have to pay a tax which won't benefit L.O. schools at all. The same is true for the relatively few Multnomah County residents who are part of the Beaverton, Hillsboro, or Scappoose school districts, none of whom will see a dime from the new tax.
The Multnomah County response was, o.k., we'll let you off the hook. And in November the county commissioners adopted a rule that purports to provide relief to folks whose schools won't benefit. Taxpayers in the school districts that don't get proceeds from the tax will eventually get a refund of the portion of it dedicated for schools -- projected to be about 70 percent of the tax.
But the devil is in the details, and get this: The partial refund of the Multnomah County tax is only for people who own property and pay property taxes to those other school districts. Renters in those areas still have to pay the full Multnomah County tax.
Why in the heck is that? If the rationale for the exemption is the lack of a benefit from the Mult. Co. tax, renters are in the exact same boat as homeowners. Their kids won't go to Portland public schools, and yet they're paying county tax for the Portland school district.
Perhaps the "reasoning" is that those renters, who aren't paying property taxes, aren't paying to support, say, the Lake Oswego schools, either. But that's bogus. Everyone knows that landlords pass property taxes, like all expenses, on to their renters. When the property taxes go up, so do the rents. So that ground for the distinction won't hold water.
Example. J, a working stiff, lives in Lake Oswego, but in a part of town that's within Multnomah County. J rents his home, which is in the Lake Oswego School District. J pays rent to a landlord who lives in Clackamas County. The landlord passes the property taxes on the home on to J as part of J's monthly rent. J must pay the full Multnomah County income tax, even though 70 percent of it goes to Portland schools, and none of it goes to the Lake Oswego schools that J's children would attend. J is very p*ssed and is going to New Orleans to purchase a voodoo doll, on which he plans to affix County Chair Linn's likeness.There are some other quirks and ambiguities in the rule as well, but this one alone is worth focusing on for the moment. Serena Cruz was the only one of the five Multnomah County commissioners who had the sense to see the injustice and vote no.
By far the dumbest part of the new tax is that there's no withholding, and for that reason (and some others), collections are going to fall far short of estimates. But that's not its only foolish element -- not by a longshot.