I hear a deafening silence so far regarding how much Multnomah County collected in the first year of its new, supposedly temporary, individual income tax.
The estimates that County Chair Diane Linn mailed to every household in the county last September said that it would bring in $128 million a year, with $7 million of it to be spent on collection.
I've said all along the county would never collect that much, because it didn't make mandatory wage withholding part of the new tax system. Income taxes don't work without withholding, and since withholding's not required for the Multnomah County income tax, most employers won't do it.
And a lot of taxpayers just haven't paid, and aren't going to unless the collector shows up at their door. The last figures I saw, in early March, showed that only $22 million had come in. Now we're nearly a week past the April 15 deadline for payment of 2003 taxes. All the local mail from last week has been delivered by now, and one would think the envelopes would have been opened and the money counted by now. And so far, no word on how much tax actually came in.
Until an official announcement, it's anybody's guess, but I'm thinking around $90 million at most. That's less than three quarters of the projections. I'm sure the Sisters of Hawthorne have been working furiously on a spin for that one.
Expect a lot of angry folks who paid, when they hear how many didn't. Not angry enough to vote to repeal the tax -- the petitions being circulated now won't pass, although it will be close. But angry enough, and with low enough morale, that political consequences will eventually be felt.
That's what happens when you have an income tax system run by a bunch of rookies.
And notice that it's too late to get a decent mandatory withholding system in place in 2004. The year is almost one-third gone, and employers and their payroll clerks (or payroll services) need a couple of months to ramp up. So the situation isn't going to get any better until 2005 at the earliest.
Which is supposed to be the third and final year of this tax.