Portland "urban renewal" tax suction: $92.4 million last year
An alert reader points us to this Oregon Department of Revenue document, which shows, among many other facts, how much "urban renewal" schemes around the state wind up draining in property taxes. Table 3.1 (toward the back) reveals that last year, Portland's 11 "urban renewal" districts ate up the property taxes on $3.79 billion in "excess values" -- the amount that property values have risen since the various districts were created. In other words, about $92.4 million in taxes was raked in by the Portland Development Commission. That's up 16.8% from the year before. Then there's another another roughly $14.5 million in special "urban renewal" taxes that show up on all Portlanders' property tax bills, not just those in the favored districts. That's quite a chunk of change for the PDC to play with.
It gets a little murky from there, but as best I can tell, Table 3.2 shows that if the $92.4 million of taxes on the "excess values" had gone where property taxes normally go, $23.2 million would have gone to Multnomah County; $32.6 million would have gone to education; $33.9 million would have gone to the city's general coffers; and $2.7 million would have gone to other public purposes. (For some reason, the state doesn't project where the other $14.5 million from citywide "urban renewal" tax would have gone, but since everybody in the city pays it, surely it would have gone somewhere.)
Now, the proponents of "urban renewal" will be quick to point out that without the streetcars and $20 million parks and free sidewalks and bioswales and totem poles and all the other PDC pork that's been lavished on the condo set, property values in the districts wouldn't have risen as much as they did, and therefore property tax collections would not have been as large. That's true as far as it goes, but the question remains how much the values in those areas would have increased even without "urban renewal." It might not have been the $3.79 billion value increase that we've seen since the districts' start dates, some of which go back several decades, but it would have been an enormous number, and the taxes on that increase would have been available for basic services.
Moreover, while the fans of "urban renewal" like to tout the tax revenue that's generated by government-subsidized gentrification, they don't often 'fess up to the greater ongoing expenses that it necessitates. As property values have increased in places like the Pearl District, so too have the costs of providing public services to those areas.
In both those important senses, then, "urban renewal" has stolen, and continues to steal, from other governmental units and their constituencies -- the poor people that the county serves, and yes, from the schoolchildren. Some "stakeholders," it seems, are more equal than others.