Filling Bernie's shoes
We noted last week that Sheriff Bernie has left the building over at the Tri-Met board of directors. Governor Ted has replaced him with a Teamsters representative, Lynn Lehrbach, who we noted is, among other things, an avid Lyndon LaRouche supporter. For us local politics fans, it was fascinating stuff.
Anyway, we also noticed at that time, through the wonders of Google, that Lehrbach had filed an appeal of his personal Multnomah County income tax obligations, and even had a hearing before the county commissioners themselves last September regarding his liability under that tax for the three years it was in existence. Just out of curiosity, we asked to see what the appeal was all about, and the clerk of the county board supplied us with an audiotape of the commissioners' meeting at which Lehrbach appeared and made his pitch for why he didn't owe as much "I-Tax" as the county taxing authorities said he did.
To kick the proceedings off, it was revealed that Lehrbach had previously buttonholed both County Chair Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Lonnie Roberts to discuss his tax issues, and so both of them had to recuse themselves from hearing his case. That left the two remaining mean girls, Lisa Naito and Maria Rojo de Steffey, and rookie Jeff "Little Big Pipe" Cogen to hear Lehrbach's appeal. Everyone on the board was quite polite and deferential to the guy, and most of them seemed to know him. Even the county tax administrators were quite friendly to him.
What Lehrbach presented to the board was going nowhere fast. He argued that although he was clearly a full-year resident of the county, he should not have to pay county income tax either on the money he earned working out of state or on his private pension benefits. The county ordinance imposing the tax is quite clear on both points, but Lehrbach wanted to be heard about why he and other similarly situated shouldn't have to pay taxes on such receipts.
He made a rambling speech about a wide range of topics -- safe streets, mental health facilities, schools, and his willingness to pay his fair share for important causes -- but it was short on decent arguments. As for his out-of-state income, his statement was, in its entirety, "I didn't earn it here; why would I pay tax here?" On his pension income, Lehrbach had at least a glimmer of an argument -- that it is unfair to tax private pensions while federal and state employees' pensions are exempt from the tax.
All of this may have made perfectly appropriate commentary to the board if it were first considering the ordinance to impose the tax. But that ordinance has long since been passed, administrative rules have been promulgated under the ordinance, and years of practice and precedent have been established. There's no going back now. The commissioners were not blunt with Lehrbach, however; they hemmed and hawed a bit before the three who were participating all voted to deny his appeal. Indeed, Cogen said that taxing private pensions was a bad policy decision; Wheeler chimed in later that had the public focused on the distinction the I-Tax was making between public and private pensions, the I-Tax would not have passed.
All told, it did not appear to have been the best use of everyone's 23 minutes. But it's a testament to the commissioners that they handled the matter with such politeness. One might have expected other taxing bodies to be a bit more abrupt.
In any event, the newest member of the Tri-Met board sounded like a nice old fellow who will stick to his guns about a few things that he feels strongly about, and not get too bogged down in technicalities on most matters. How that will play out on a crony board like Tri-Met isn't exactly clear, but when the Machine Formerly Known as Goldschmidt conducts business as usual over there, I wouldn't expect Lehrbach to rock the boat.