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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Not so fast, Batman

Willamette Week returns to some familiar themes this week. Jeff Merkley -- bad. Erik Sten -- crusading genius. (Now that he lives in the West Hills, he's even more so.) Downtown business owners -- very bad. Homer Williams -- selfless patriot.

The Sten story is interesting. Opie* wants to take property taxes from the Pearl and use them to help the David Douglas School District. A couple of problems with that. First, didn't the city float bonds to pave the streets of gold in the Pearl? If we use the property taxes to help David Douglas, doesn't that stretch out the life of those bonds? Given the crippling police and fire pension obligations that are going to be coming due pretty soon (they're at $1.8 billion currently), shouldn't we get that debt cleared up before we start in on any more Great Ideas?

Second, isn't there a legal problem with what's being proposed? I seem to recall that the Oregon Tax Court says that cities and counties can't levy property taxes to help schools if the schools have already hit their property tax limit under Measure 5. If David Douglas is already maxed out under Measure 5, isn't it illegal for the city to float it more property tax dollars?

*- New nickname pending. Too young for "Jed Clampett." Maybe "Jethro"?

Comments (31)

Second, isn't there a legal problem with what's being proposed?

IIRC, Sten's plan does nothing because the State would reduce it's funding by the amount Pearl money flows east.

Looks like Sten in back in the business of finding solutions for problems that don't exist (or, aren't his problem).

Now, about those potholes ...

On Sten's plan - I haven't seen the analysis, but there's a clue in the WW article: "non-contiguous boundaries". Sounds like what is being proposed is to expand the Pearl UR District to include some or all of the area of the David Douglas School District. A novel concept indeed, given that David Douglas is nowhere near the Pearl. What they would be doing is using borrowed money to help out the schools, and using UR tax dollars to make the debt payments. Legal? I'm not a lawyer, but you'd assume Sten would have run this by the City Attorney before putting it out there. Portland has run with stupider ideas in the past.

finding solutions for problems that don't exist (or, aren't his problem).

Still, you'd have to admit that there's a certain kind of elegant symmetry in an ineffective solution to a non-problem.

As for the new nickname, "Batman" has promise.

The nickname thing comes off as a bit jaded and mean spirited after a while Jack. It is a bit like a joke that was funny for a while but grows tiresome with the umpteenth telling.

That said, how about Cletus? Or maybe Darrell (as in my brother Darrell and my other brother Darrell)?

So, uhhh, why is Erik Sten getting involved in this? Doesn't the city have enough to do? Ohh, I know, he's trying ever so hard to show "leadership" in preparation for moving on to a higher office so we can all benefit from his mad governmental type skillz!

I think Batman is too leader-like...
How about "Robin" the boy wonder.

Sten's idea may or may not be feasible, but one of the big complaints of certain individuals is that the rest of the city is being neglected in favor of downtown Portland and environs.

The David Douglas School District has major problems with growing enrollment and not enough facilities to provide space for everyone. Improvement of its lot would be a major improvement in the lives of East Portlanders

So say what you want about the idea's feasibility, but at least Sten is trying to do something for the neglected parts of East Portland, and he should get at least some credit for that.

Remember, Opie grew up to become Richie Cunningham.

"The nickname thing comes off as a bit jaded and mean spirited after a while Jack. It is a bit like a joke that was funny for a while but grows tiresome with the umpteenth telling."

Simon, how wrong you are.
Jaded? (not that there's anything wrong with that!)
Mean spirited? (a bit over the top, doncha think... mean spirited is usually saved for Hitler and Republicans, not Bojack)
Tiresome? (who gets tired of exposing the vast stupidity conspiracy of Portland Plutocrats?)

Besides, the power of the word from people like Bojack and his army of commenteers is the only weapon we have left in our cache. Ridicule is very powerful, especially when it is only shining a bright light on the incompetence of the leader, summarized in a nick name. Haven't you heard about the smirky chimp?

I vote for Jethro.

How about Rube Silverschmidt?

I hope Sten's "creative" idea here leads to a change in the urban renewal laws in Salem next session. All they have to do is cut the 15% area/assessment limit to 10%. If that happened, we wouldn't be talking about schemes like this in Portland for a while, and it would prevent other cities from the temptation of overborrowing against future property taxes.

How about Gappy McLinchpin?

I think the Oregon statutes regarding Urban Renewal are very germane to this issue. They plainly say that urban renewal funds cannot be used outside of an urban renewal district. PDC cites this fact all the time to deny requests for improvements on the fringes of URAs, like SoWhat. Also, the statutes clearly define the assessment limits, that URAs land areas must be contiguous (no islands), and a limit to land additions to a URA during its existence. Where's the state Attorney General on Stens proposal when you need him?

I like Jethro. (The name, that is.)

I would like it if Jethro and his kin would spend less time dreaming and scheming and more time leaning on their pals in Salem to finally do something about our inadequate and unreliable state revenue stream.

Things like a partial repeal of Measure 5 for non-owner-occupied properties, and restoring the balance between corporate and personal income tax would be a good start.

Those two things alone could restore educational funding to a reasonable level, and insulate it from economic downturns.

Before any libertarian tax-haters jump down my throat about an unfriendly business environment, go do a little research on tax burden by state, and tell me where Oregon ranks. Thanks.

There's something apropos about Sten's proposal. The PDC handed out tax abatements to spur the Pearl district build up. Now Sten is proposing to go back in and negate those abatements in essence. Glad I'm outside Pearl because I'd be trying to remove the knife stuck in my back. Maybe Portland shouldn't be handing out tax abatements in the first place. But I guess that would be too clean a process to mix with local politics.

This is all such random chaos.
And it's pathetic.

What about the new mandate to spend 30% of all UR funds on "affordable housing"
or the debt servicing of the borrowed Urban Renewal MILLIONS spent, or the huge cost overruns on everything in sight in SoWa?
Among many other considerations which never seem to find ANY cohesive pattern of responsibility.

What a bunch of dumb clucks as they cough up one random thought after another.

Making further chaos of the greater mess is the fact that there isn't even a vague summary of it all to be found anywhere.
Not a single agency has a clear accounting of monies invested, borrowed, spent, dedicated, committed or promised.
The SoWa Urban Renewal Citizen Advisory Committee can't even get a full accounting and updated budget/plan for SoWa alone.

It's friggin amazing that not a single newspaper or journalist grasps the overridding dysfunction involved here.
And it's further amazing how so many people view it all as a well oiled working planning machine and model for the nation as their support for our local electeds never waivers.

In fact they can look forward to being further rewarded.
Just look at the enamour over Mayor Sam Adams.

What's it all about?

Before any libertarian tax-haters jump down my throat about an unfriendly business environment, go do a little research on tax burden by state, and tell me where Oregon ranks. Thanks.

You're welcome.

Despite the attempt at a preemptive strike on anyone who disagrees with your assertions, I'll offer this.

A fairly clear indication that the state spends more than 40 others - and marginally less than the three or four immediately in "front" of it.

You use your stats and show me where these don't reflect the true "tax burden" on Oregonians. Unless, of course, it depends on what your definition of is is.


...as in Fife?

RR -

I'm confused, but that doesn't take much.

Are you arguing that the table you reference shows that Oregon has a "bad" businesss climate because of per capita state spending?

The table seems to show that Alaska, Wyoming, and West Virginia spend the most per capita, by huge margins.

Yet I've never heard any one argue that the business climate in those three states is "bad". Indeed, Wyoming is frequently touted as a great place to do busness, as are Montana and Nevada.

Help me out here?


RR, that's not what I asked for. Let me be more specific. Show me where Oregon ranks among states for tax burden on businesses and individuals. Not per capita spending. Tax burden.

And do note that I am not calling for more tax burden on individuals, just on businesses. So the business tax burden is what I'm really after.


RR, that's not what I asked for.

True, but it should have been.

Where, pray tell, do you think the money that gets spent by the state comes from - George Soros?

A tax by any other name is still a tax - AND a burden.


I'm not making any assertions about business climate - just trying to point up that measuring taxes as only something with the word "tax" in it is simply a semantic game. It proves nothing but disingenuousness.


Alaska and Wyoming may spend a lot per capita, but it doesn't come from taxing its citizens. Alaska has a permanent fund from its oil revenues that enables it to sustain a high level of spending. It's actually a pretty low-tax place to live. Wyoming has a mineral extraction tax paid by large companies for the privilege of extracting minerals and coal-bed methane, etc. It's currently the only state in the union with a budget surplus. So again, its large expenditures are not paid for by taxes that impact Wyoming residents. It's a very business-friendly state, and one with very low taxes -- unlike Oregon!

Yhanks, al.

I'd guess that West Virginia has a similar source of income from taxes on the coal industry.

I'd guess Oregon no longer has any such large-scale resource extraction industry to subsidize such largesse. I wonder who that leaves to pay the bill?


Who moved the "T"?

I'd hate to work at the PDC. First Opie makes them the city's second housing agency -- now he's going to get them into school construction. The whole city government is catching ADD from Sten and bipolar disorder from Sam the Tram.

As for the new nickname, I like "Richie Cunningham." Or maybe "Richie Rich."

Whatever their names, they were never even remotely qualified, cappable, wise or skilled enough to be making public policies.

The decades long swarm of acceptance of incompetence around has resulted in a quagmire of hideouos decisions and policies.

And it's getting much worse as the stuff piles up.

As long as folks keep voting them into office, all you'll see is more of the same. Sam and Eric are the bold new wave of the future. Portlanders love a moveable scam.

rr -

Steve has an excellent point, but you refuse to see it by obfusticating the tax revenues with per capita spending by the state.

That's basically a straw man.

The point is that over the past twenty years, the burden of taxes in the State of Oregon has shifted from the corporations to individuals, particularly homeowners. According to what I heard recently (sorry, no source) Oregon rates as the next to lowest of all US states in terms of corporate tax burden.

Of course, if we combine that with your information that in terms of per capita tax burden, Oregon is high up the list...well, I guess that means that individual taxpayers - folks like you and me - are paying a much larger proportion of the total tax burden, because the corporations have been given a bye (ostensibly to entice them to locate in the state, which has failed miserably).

When I was a lad right out of college, I had a decent job doing what was euphemistically called "economic development research". It largely consisted of attempting to entice expanding businesses locate plant and office in Portland. I was peripherally involved in the whole Wacker Siltronic deal. I and another researcher did some research and found that tax burden was NOT the prime issue for corporations looking to locate new plant...corporate taxes don't vary all that much nationwide and can usually be "shifted" to the end consumer (thus raising the cost of the product and potentially making it relatively uncompetitive, assuming that competing corporations did not do the same thing - not likely). What was the number one concern of corporations considering new plant capacity expansion? Good schools. Yeah, that's right. Corporate officer types want to make sure that the families of their leadership have access to quality education and that future employees are likely to be well educated. Beyond that, resource input costs and transport costs tend to be of greater concern than local tax burdens.

Now...Consider that the tax burden for public services has largely been shifted to the individual taxpayer and that increasing amounts of public funding has been redirected to "economic stimulus" (i.e., giving public dollars to private contractors a la the developer scams), the disparity between the individual tax burden and the corporate tax burden becomes even greater and more odius.

It appears that for Portland Urban Renewal is not a blight remover but a disguised form of more taxation.

Here you have the Pearl District URA producing tax dollars more than what may be needed to retire the URA debt. Those tax dollars can't be used to help Portland's general fund to pay for fire, police, streets, PERS; but the politicos are trying to illegally divert the excess to other URAs. If there is excess why not just pay off the Pearl District URA debt early and retire the District. Prudent homeowners are smart enough to take extra income and retire their home mortgages early, why not the city? Just another form of devious Portland taxation.


Obfustication goes both ways.

I responded to Steve's challenge - to look up the relative "tax burden" here.

I'm trying not to confuse the specific and the general - I don't dispute that the disparity between the personal and corporate tax "burden" has become greater (much), but the other conclusions you draw are fair game. Your personal experiences are more illustrative of your bias than of objective reality. Your blithe dismissal of the effect of increased corporate tax rates on the consumer is convenient but suspect. Who in the world do you suppose pays ANY increased costs for those evil businesses?

Remember, stockholders are people, too. They're no longer some remote group of uber-rich folks with whom we have nothing in common (that's assuming that "we" aren't uber-rich). I'm not, anyhow.

I guess it makes the whole thing more palatable, or saleable (if you're selling), to find some bogeyman to blame, but, in reality, it's zero sum - you can pay me now, or pay me later...


...pay the government directly or indirectly; whatever makes your poodle bark.

I prefer that the pain be directly attributable to its inflictor.

Oh, that sounds awfully libertarian, donut?

I responded to Steve's challenge - to look up the relative "tax burden" here.

I must have missed where you responded to that. All I saw was the mumbo jumbo about spending per capita. I'm looking specifically for Oregon's corporate tax burden in relation to other states.

It's okay if you don't have time to look it up; I don't either. But you're being disingenuous by claiming to have answered my challenge.

Oh, to heck with it, I looked it up for you.

According to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group based in Washington, D.C., Oregon is the 10th best state in the nation for business tax climate.

Also, we rank 37th in the nation for individual tax burden, with a below-average tax burden of 10% (average is 11% nation-wide).

I respectfully submit that we could rebalance the burden by repealing Measure 5 for non-owner-occupied property and increasing business income tax, and still remain well above average for business tax climate and below average for individual tax burden.

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