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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Portland head tax now in full jerk-around mode

A reader writes about the currently adopted (and probably unconstitutional) Portland arts tax:

A very senior citizen friend phoned me to report a conversation she had today with the Municipal Liens Collection Office 823-4090. The info she gave me didn't sound sane, so I double-checked by phoning the Revenue Bureau 823-5157, Press 8.

Friend was correct.

The options offered me were the same offered my friend -- who had shared with them that she's elderly and doesn't have a computer:

-- Go onto their website,, where you can pay by credit card. (I quickly glanced at that site, found this:

The Revenue Bureau Tax Division administers: Arts Education and Access Income Tax (Arts Tax)

but no access to further info.)

-- They won’t mail you a form (why?) but you can go to their office to get one.

-- Tax forms won’t be available online – a "management decision." (Why?)

-- They can "process payment over the phone." This entails providing them with your name, what you earned in 2012 (Why? If you’re agreeing to pay it, they don’t need to seek that info over the phone), last four digits of your SSN, your date of birth; they’ll then provide you with a confirmation number which you must write on your personal check.

-- Direct withdrawal from your bank: Phone them to give them a bunch of personal information plus bank name, routing number and bank account number. How long before we hear news reports that their computers have been hacked?

They did confirm that the tax became effective January 1, 2012 (as we learned earlier on your blog) and payment is due by April 15, 2013, but their website and other materials won’t be organized or ready until March 1.

They then state that in February they’ll be "mailing a postcard." If no response, they will follow up with a letter in March, plus three more reminder letters. (But payment isn’t due until April 15? What am I misunderstanding here?)

Allegedly it's going to cost the city $1 million in one year to collect $9.9 million.

What a mess. But hey, as long as they know the way to the courthouse -- because that is where this tax is headed (no pun intended).

Comments (30)

I have brought this matter up before.
This seems like a fishing expedition to garner more information from the citizens.
Is this the city's business?
How do they intend to determine how many people live in a household?
This is a mess, and there is no trust left with these people. Why do they need any SSN numbers or date of birth? Check if over 18 should suffice. Give the city bank numbers??
Someone asked the other day if this is being challenged in court? If not, we will see a trail of head taxes coming. . .

Unbelievable how poorly organized this is.its riddiculous that you can't file it they won't mail you a form and you have to go to their office to get one?I never heard of anything like least with the multco- itax it was better organized than this.this is a bunch of crap how disorganized this is.I doubt all portlanders are going to pay this on time either.I bet it will take much more than one million to collect this do and I doubt they will get the 85% first year compliance rate they think.

I've never heard of tax forms not being available online or taxpayers not being allowed to have tax forms mailed to them.this is flat out ridiculous.they should have had the tax forms mailed out to people in January and made sure all the tax prep offices like H&R block had them.I've never heard of any tax or tax collection scheme being so disorganized and customer unfriendly like this do they expect people to file and pay online if the proper forms to file online are not available online?whoever organized and put together this nonsense really has their heads in the are they going to prove how many people live in each household?this is a joke how screwed up the city is on this.

It is pretty tempting to just not pay it and see how they intend to figure how many adults are in each household and whether or not they are employed.

Anybody know how many heads get taxed in a household that files a joint return but only one spouse has income?

this is a joke how screwed up the city is on this.

On this?
The list is long!

So, was this tax really about forcing everyone to support opera and ballet (and maybe some arts in schools if the money color was right), or was it about creating another opportunity for Portland to harass its residents?

Really? Relinquish banking and personal security information to someone on the phone who claims to be from the government?

This needs to be brought to the attention of a national consumer advocacy group.

Allan L. This is from the city website "If I work and my spouse doesn’t, do we owe $35 or $70?
In cases where one spouse is "income earning", there would only be one person subject to the $35 tax. If the non-working spouse has any income (interest, retirement income, etc.), they are “income-earning” and would need to pay the tax and $70 would be due. For more information about what income is considered, please see the FAQ "what income is considered?"

So hopefully you had more than $35 in interest on that checking or savings account. I do not intend to pay this tax as it is illegal.

I don't see how you can be compelled to give the city any information as to income and ss# as this is currently structured.

You'd think they'd qualify "working." If you work part-time or fall below a certain income level are they really going to equate you with someone who makes a six-figure income and ask both of you to pay the same amount? This reminds me of our new "water fee" in the apartments where I live; they figure it be the size of the apartment and not by how many people are IN the apartment using water. So I get to pay the same amount my neighbors (who are a couple with a child) pay. I'm with Snards. I've already paid my taxes. I'm curious about how they are going to track down people either unwilling or unable to jump through their forms hoops. By the way, over the past couple of years the Feds have been making it harder to file as well. Now there are certain forms you can't submit online or print out and send in. You have to go to the 1st and Main IRS office and pick them up. And when you get there, the racks are often empty with forms or booklets expected "within a couple of weeks." Sure, if you've got computer access and a laptop or thumb drive you can download the booklets in PDF format but try telling that to Grandma.

Even better, according to the FAQs it costs an additional $.99 to pay the tax online using a credit card. Debit cards are not listed as an approved form of payment.

"Is there a fee to file or pay online?

Filing online is free if paying with a checking or saving account via ACH payment (electronic check), but paying online with a credit card will require the payment of a 99 cent (99¢) convenience fee.

Why are you charging a convenience fee for online credit card payments?

A convenience fee is charged to help cover the administrative costs associated with various payment options.

What are the acceptable forms of payment?
Cash, check, money order, credit card (online only), ACH payment (electronic check, online only). Be sure to pre-authorize your account for ACH payments to avoid any unexpected bank charges."

There's a link to request an exemption on the website but there's nothing there to indicate that it's a secure or protected site. And they want you to input your social security number and other personal information on this page.

And no matter what you might hear from our lawmakers, if you're a single person and you made as little as just over $11,000 in 2012, you're still expected to pay.

And that's gross pay before taxes.

k2, I think most banks charge a fee for electronic checks and ACH so basically there is no way to pay electronically(their preferred form of payment)without getting hit with a fee.

Doesn't this just feel like one final amateur-hour time bomb left behind by Sam Adams? At least, I hope it's the final one.

In 2011, James J. Piro, CEO of PGE, was paid almost 2 million dollars. When Peggy Fowler was CEO in 2008, PGE paid its executives (in total) almost 2 million more than they do today (poor Mr. Piro) making Fowler the 11th highest-paid CEO in Oregon. So this guy and my neighbor (who filed with less than $5,000 in taxable income for 2012 due to having lost his job and being unemployed for several months, now working part time - gross pay just a smidge over the "poverty line") get to pay exactly the same amount to the Arts tax. He can't even afford to keep his house heated on a regular basis. Something's wrong here.

Can someone scan the form and send it to our host so he can post it online?

If the city won't post the form online, then our host could get all the traffic from people who aren't comfortable giving out credit card info over the phone.

Then once they get here, maybe we can draft them into this plan....

The internet tells me that $35 worth of dimes weighs about 1.75 pounds.

It also tells me that the post office can ship less two pounds within the city for $5.80. (four lbs for $7.45)

How long would it take a city employee to count out 350 dimes? (or 700 dimes for dual income households).

Hmmmm. It's like civil disobedience without the threat of penalty.

1. Print the form.
2. Go to the bank for dimes.
3. Stop by the post office to mail.

I'd only be out half an hour and the cost of postage. Anyone else interested?

"Something's wrong here."

Tell that to the voters of Portland who voted for this.

I would like to know how the city legally expects to collect money on this when many residents have limited assets like unemployment compensation and elderly people and many other folks on fixed incomes like SSI and social security benefits which the city of Portland is not allowed by law to legally garnish or touch to collect this riddiculous tax?this tax is very properly organized and was not very well prepared or thought out especially the constitutionality of it.

This tax was not very well or properly organized.sorry about the error in my last post.

An art tax? If ever there was a reason to move from Portland this is it. What will be next from these clowns? So what happens if everyone just tell them to go have sex with themselves?

I wrote in the past that I was concerned that this art tax might backfire on the arts in our community as people will be really upset when the collections are at their door. As far as I know, it is not the artists who were responsible for this and they may very well be the ones who will be hurt by it. There may be artists who cannot afford or want this head tax either as they need their funds for their business, to buy paints, papers, ceramic supplies, etc.

Can I file an extension?


Can I have a payment plan?
Taxpayers can pay the tax in two payments. There is a $1.00 per person split payment fee. The first payment is due on or before April 15. The second payment is due on May 15.


After April 15: $15 penalty
After October 15: $35 penalty


If I claim to be exempt from the tax by being under the federal poverty level, what type of documentation would I be required to provide in order to verify my income level?

You must send documents that support your household exemption claim.

Please provide a signed copy of your 2012 federal Form 1040 (pages 1 and 2), Form 1040EZ or Form 1040A. If you are unable to send this return (for example, you are not subject to the Form 1040 filing requirements or your tax return is on a six-month federal extension), you can provide a copy of a public assistance award letter for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) benefits or a completed federal Form 4506-T (Request for Transcript of Tax Return). Please go to our exemptions website if you need more information about exemptions.

Failure to provide information supporting your exemption will result in denial of your exemption.

Can you imagine that this could just be the beginning of all kinds of head taxes to adhere to? I resent this, it is one more clamp on our lives and I am afraid there will be more.

Is that a 6B?
Don't Pay
Don't Pay
Don't Pay!!!

There are many things wrong with the tax itself and the implementation is a botch job. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Based on revenue projections, the city cannot, by law, spend more than $600,000 collecting the tax. If they collect less, they must spend less. Yes, it's written that way.
  • The law approved by voters is very clear that individuals below the poverty line are exempt from the tax. As I mentioned many times, there are many individuals who may satisfy this condition but don't have any documentation. For example, consider resident who qualifies, but is does not file federal taxes or collect SNAP or TANF. Then what?

If one has income from the tax-free interest from Portland municipal bonds, is the $35 tax due?

RE; convenience fee - I was thinking the same idea as panchopdx, except I was thinking a bag of 3500 pennies.

Just keep reminding yourself that we have nameless, competent city employees in charge...

I think that a better plan would have been to have a fund for those who wish to donate to the arts. That way those with money might donate several thousand and those who do not or cannot would be free of this inept plan.

Isn't it curious the website address is a .net address that gets redirected to the PDX city website ?
"This is an open TLD; any person or entity is permitted to register. Originally intended for use by domains pointing to a distributed network of computers, or "umbrella" sites that act as the portal to a set of smaller websites."
When they should more properly use the .gov domain
"The .gov TLD is limited to governmental entities and agencies in the US."
An attempt to fool people into thinking this is an altuistic organization collecting the funds "for the children" ?

Apparently the Office of Neighborhood Involvement got an email; they just posted this to facebook:
Email received regarding the new Arts Tax - they have a website.
Pay Early! Pay Online! is live!

This is where the artstax url goes:

When Eric and I appeared in Multnomah Circuit Court challenging the ballot title for the arts fund tax, one of the first things the Judge said in response to Eric's challenge of the tax as being an unconstitutional head tax was: [and I think I am recalling this correctly] "you don't expect me to rule on the tax being a head tax." He actually did in the final ruling say it was not a head tax, but noted his decision could not appealed under election law. He also did not rule the tax an income tax, either. Which if it is not an income tax but the ballot title called it as such doesn't this make the election results highly dubious? Too me the arts tax is no more an income tax than a sales tax on a bicycle or car is a mileage tax.
The whole referral and initiative process is totally rigged now. Government employees write the ballot title, or re-write them, so as to benefit government coffers from which they personally benefit; and in this case, the City government under the always sleight-of-hand leadership of Sam Adams establishes and funds with city public monies the so-called charities leading the campaign in favor of the Arts tax.
There's no winning on this one either, folks. If the tax is struck down in court, this new City Hall is not really different from the financially ruinous one of Adams and Leonard. They will go about bringing back the Multnomah I tax, which somehow actually was allowed to sunset as originally approved by voters.
One silver lining to the Double Cross CRC project is it might make re-location to Vancover, Washington, easier what with light rail access to no sales tax Oregon. Except I always feel I am on the edge of anarchy whenever I take to riding the light rail MAX system. An uneasy feeling of being on a long ride with a number of passengers who seem on the edge of coming unglued all of a sudden. On real commuter trains such as those in Chicago, New York and Paris; it's still edgy but the rides are much quicker...much less time in the Orwellian like sweat box.

Bob Clark,
This doesn't sound good.
Thank you to you and Eric for challenging the ballot title.
I don't believe this city can take much more of the "rigging."
I am sure many of us are troubled by the downward spiral here.


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