Sam and Ted's regressive adventure
Now that the Mean Girls have been broken up, guess who are the new Best Friends around the schoolyard. It's the next Portland mayor, Sam the Tram, and the rookie county chair, Ted Wheeler. They're whistling happy tunes together all of a sudden, and they've got some fascinating ideas for the local tax system.
According to these guys, the venture capital firms are paying too much local tax, and the rest of us are paying too little. And so the venture capitalists will get a tax cut, and the rest of us will pay more.
Doesn't sound very "progressive," does it?
They might have floated these two proposals a little further apart, to make the contrast a little less obvious, but they're out there promoting both of them simultaneously. On the venture capitalists, here's how it was reported the other day in the PBJ*:
Portland and Multnomah County may soon kill a local business income tax on capital gains.Well, gee, guys, if they're not going to pay taxes, then why the heck do we want them in town?
Both the City Council and County Commission are expected to approve the change later this month. If they do, venture capital firms will no longer pay a combined 3.65 percent tax on the gains made by investing in small companies. The change will rectify what venture capitalists say has been unfair treatment that has driven them out of town.
On the other side of this coin -- us little folk who work for a living -- the tax increase would come in the form of a new package of taxes and fees that the city and county are proposing to pay for transportation needs. The Tramster outlined some of this in the Trib last weekend, but it includes (a) a 3 cents per gallon city gas tax; (b) a $4.50 a month "street safety and maintenance fee," which would be on every household's water and sewer bill, plus a business fee ranging from $27 to more than $700 a month, depending on the size of the property and the number of vehicle trips it generates; and (c) either a county vehicle registration fee or a county general obligation bond, which would eventually get paid off by property taxes.
For a while, the city's part of this was being described as either the gas tax or the household "fee." But heck, we never saw a tax we didn't like, and so Sam the Tram figures, let's go for both.
Meanwhile, back on the home front, we got another direct mail piece on the city's transportation "problems" (downgraded from a "crisis," apparently) yesterday. The latest is a four-page full-color job, reminiscent of the inserts that were stuck in a bunch of neighborhood newspapers last month, only smaller. The text is mostly new, and now the county's name and logo have have been added to the sales pitch:
These things just keep coming at you. It's the second direct mail piece we've gotten on the subject, and as noted here before, we've also seen many (seemingly illegal) signs tacked onto utility poles touting "open houses" on it. Not to mention the robo-phone call that we received one day, steering us to one such meeting. The expenses on this promotional effort must be well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As I've declared on this blog previously, in theory I don't have a problem with the gas tax. The current gas tax, set as a fixed number of cents per gallon, hasn't been adjusted even for general inflation, much less at the rate of inflation for fuels, since forever. Indeed, I wold hope that if it passes, the 3-cents-a-gallon city tax would be automatically increased or decreased (say, once a year) to track changes in the price of gas. I would be opposed to the street fee, though. It isn't fair to tax those elderly folk who mostly stay at home and walk wherever they go, to pay for streets. And besides, the Portland water and sewer bills are already enough to make one faint upon opening them; adding another $13.50 per quarter is going to wind up giving someone a heart attack.
And then there's the matter of all the wasteful spending on the streetcar system, which is costing the city something like $1.6 million a year to operate, and will wind up rising to over $2 million if we implement the the ridiculous plan to extend it to the east side. As long as we're hellbent on wasting money on that toy, I'm inclined to vote no on all of the taxes and fees. And it looks as though we'll all get a chance to have our say, as this tax package is apparently going to be sent to the voters in May.
The "tell us what you think" line in the literature is a hunk of phony baloney. The city's made up its mind, the county's on board, Sam and Ted are going to do their seven open houses, and you can be darn sure that a referendum on this plan is a done deal. No matter "what you think" at this point.
But probably the saddest part of the relentless sales pitch is the tired "for the children" aspect of it all. Everywhere you turn on the flyer, there they are:
Sam and Ted -- dudes -- I think I'm gonna hurl. Especially you, Ted. Please, please be different.
* - No, that's not Peanut Butter and Jelly.