want a stable, equitable tax system to fully fund the
services they value.
Most comments in this section involve suggestions for
how to re-align the tax system to better reflect community
members’ values. While disagreements abound over specific
measures and strategies, there is general consensus
that the tax system should be equitable, stable and
capable of fully funding the services that matter most
to people. There is also agreement among respondents
that the City needs to rethink its use of tax breaks
While many acknowledge that part of the problem is
at the state and federal levels, they nevertheless look
to local government to align its taxing and spending
practices with community members’ values. That being
said, feelings towards paying taxes range widely, with
some expressing a willingness to pay higher taxes for
higher-quality services, others wanting the City to
use the money it has more effectively and still others
wanting lower taxes. Additional areas of debate include
whether or not to implement a sales tax and whether
the current tax burden is too high, too low or just
right for individuals as well as different types of
support taxes to fund the services they value.
current tax system is not equitable.
- Tax breaks should be used
to promote the community’s values.
- The tax system must support
high-quality public education.
- Are taxes too high, too
low, or just right?
- Should Portland adopt
a sales tax?
support taxes to fund the services they value.
- While some individuals are simply opposed
to paying taxes, most people who commented
on this topic support paying taxes to adequately
fund services they believe to be necessary.
- However, many people state that their willingness
to pay taxes hinges on how tax revenues are
- Many Portlanders say they are willing to
pay the same amount or more in taxes if the
following conditions can be met:
- Tax revenues are spent
efficiently on services and programs
- Tax dollars are used to fund
people’s top priorities, such
as the maintenance and improvement of
public infrastructure and the provision
of excellent public education;
- Tax revenues are used to improve
the livability of the city as
- Tax revenues are not used on special
projects with limited appeal (these projects
should be funded by those who want to
see them happen, not the general public);
- Tax revenues are not used to help private
interests make more money or gain competitive
advantage (for a more complete discussion
on how people would like their tax dollars
spent, see Government:
value that] there has been a willingness
to experiment with new methodologies of
governing, a willingness to tax ourselves
for important community causes, and efforts
made to keep the conversation going about
what Portland should be...”
will pay for the public works and services
they see and approve of. The Water Bureau’s
‘Field Day’ for the public was one of
the best open windows into an otherwise
costly and maligned bureau. Copy this
would like to see complete transparency
in where our tax money is going—All tax
money including fees and fines.”
- Change the anti-tax public sentiment
by demonstrating responsible use of public
funds and by educating the public.
- “Begin an add campaign to educate the public
on why paying taxes can be a good thing by
showing them the benefits it produces. Portland
is great because of all the public goods it
current tax system is not equitable.
- Portlanders want a fair
tax system, although what this means
varies depending on people’s personal and
- Many Portlanders believe that the current
tax systems benefits wealthy individuals and
corporate businesses while overburdening small
businesses, lower to middle- income individuals,
childless people and property owners.
- Some perspectives on the equity of the current
system include the following:
- Individuals pay too much, businesses
pay too little;
- Small businesses pay too much, big corporations
pay too little;
- Long-time residents of gentrifying neighborhoods
pay too much (property taxes), while higher-income
residents of condos and new development
pay too little;
- Drivers of automobiles pay too much,
cyclists pay too little; and
- Residents of Vancouver who work in Portland
pay too little, especially for transportation
services and upgrades.
- Some people acknowledge that the structural
inequities in the system are created at the
state and federal level; however they still
think Portland can improve the equity of its
taxes for low-income. If we have less
taxes we can keep more of the money we
earn for living and would reduce theft
and some other common crimes.”
taxes for the corporate businesses that
have been allowed for too long to pollute
our air, rivers, and communities.”
housing developers to pay for their need
to expand the utility infrastructure –
the taxpayer should not have to support
their desire to develop and make more
- “The city leadership probably
needs to form an alliance with other State
leaders on an overall
tax reform agenda.”
- Institute a property-tax
freeze for the elderly and for long-time
residents of gentrifying neighborhoods.
- Portlanders suggest lowering
certain taxes and raising others
to improve the overall equity of the tax system.
- Small businesses;
- Lower and middle-income individuals; and
- Property owners.
Increase taxes on:
- “Companies with an excess of five million
in revenues per year;”
- People who can afford to pay them;
- Marijuana (legalize and tax);
- Unhealthy products such as candy, soda and
high-fructose corn syrup;
- Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs);
- Cars entering the downtown area;
- “Why not tax or license bicycles; they eat
up tax dollars?”
- “Find a way to tax the ‘live in Washington
but buy and work in Portland’ people. They
use our roads but do not pay for them.”
breaks should be used to promote the community’s
- Portlanders want tax breaks used to narrow
the gap between the “haves” and “have nots”
and to promote broad social goals such as
sustainability and equity.
- They want tax breaks to assist organizations
and companies that improve livability for
the City as a whole, as opposed to those that
are purely trying to profit.
- Portlanders do not support the following
types of tax breaks:
- Tax abatement for developers of close-in,
- Tax breaks to lure large companies to
the area (many people spoke out against
- Tax breaks to encourage well-off residents
to purchase high-end housing such as condos
in the Pearl and South Waterfront.
- Many Portlanders support tax breaks for
- To encourage businesses to adopt sustainable
practices, including “cradle to cradle”
technology and renewable energy;
- To enable longtime residents of gentrifying
neighborhoods to keep their homes and
- To assist small businesses;
- To encourage the creation of more affordable
- To encourage/reward the use of mass
transit and environmentally-friendly forms
of transportation; and
- To support artists (attract them to
Portland, help them obtain affordable
gallery, work, or living space).
future may not be best served by tax incentives
to attract large companies, rather it
may be better served by helping to grow
new, small, local companies that promote
employee ownership or community ownership
of profitable operations that allow wealth
to accumulate where none has existed before.”
keep the city out of the business of trying
to pick the next economic winners (biotech,
etc..) They city can best support economic
growth by ensuring good infrastructure,
excellent education systems, livable neighborhoods,
effective energy policies, and reasonable
(and fair) taxation.”
- Tax based on waste
not profit, so those companies that
profit while reducing waste get a tax break.
- Give a tax break or credit to stay-at-home
parents who provide their own childcare.
- Use tax incentives to “encourage Portlanders
to participate in local boards governing community,
water and land management.”
land not buildings, in every 'center'
- Provide financial incentives for planting
- Allow people to write off a TriMet pass
on their tax returns or provide another tax
benefit to using public transportation.
- Subsidize free
parking spots for Flex Car to encourage
more people to use this service.
tax system must support high-quality public
- There is incredible support for our public
school system (see Education:
- A large number of respondents want Portland's
public schools fully funded, and a tax
system that ensures educational
excellence, small class sizes, art and music
classes, physical education and numerous high-quality
after school programs (see Education:
- Frustration is expressed over repetitive,
short term, and seemingly ineffective funding
“fixes” such as the Multnomah County I-Tax.
- People want elected officials to develop
stable, long-term solutions to the recurrent
funding crises in the schools.
our schools! I will pay more taxes for
taxes to support education.
- Institute a Sales
Tax and have the proceeds fund education.
how tax funds are used, so low-priority projects
receive less funding and schools receive more
administrative expenses in the schools
and find other ways to use current funds more
Note: There are major
disagreements around what is needed in order
for schools to be fully funded. For a more
complete discussion, see Education:
taxes too high, too low or just right?
Portlanders express a range of attitudes and feeling
towards paying taxes. Some are glad to pay taxes,
no questions asked. Many of these Portlanders feel
that the current tax burden is too low, citing funding
crises in education, a growing homeless population
and aging City infrastructure as proof that more funds
are needed to solve the community’s problems.
2030] we would have a highly educated populace.
As such, they would be even more concerned about
the quality of their city. People would pull together
for the common good, seeing taxes going for value
returned. The anti-tax thing drives me nuts.”
A larger group of people understand the importance
of taxes, but feel their dollars are wasted and/or
misused. Complaints range from inefficient government
as a result of duplicated services to government spending
on the wrong priorities. This group of Portlanders
feels that the problem is not the tax level but how
tax money is spent (see Government:
Spending). They want to see the government produce
maximum benefit with the dollars it already has before
asking the community for additional funds.
the money from taxes is spent wisely and effectively,
I don’t mind paying more taxes.”
Finally, there is a very small group of respondents
that is suspicious of taxes and would prefer to pay
less, regardless of how well funds are used. These
individuals tend to feel that taxes are already far
too high and that government is involved in many activities
that are unnecessary.
2030] taxes are lower and individuals take more
responsibility for their special interests.”
Portland adopt a sales tax?
There is a great desire for a strong and sustainable
tax base, although Portlanders disagree as to whether
this sustainable tax base should include a sales
tax. People who support a sales tax believe that
it could solve many of our funding problems, from
recurrent funding shortages in schools to our need
for a more extensive public transportation system.
They also believe that it would help the state “weather
the ups and downs of the economy,” providing more
stable, reliable funding for programs.
Those who oppose a sales tax cite the lack of such
a tax as one of the best things about Portland and
the entire state. They also tend to believe that
government could be doing a better job with the
money it already has, spending dollars more efficiently
and focusing on the public’s priorities (see Government:
Performance and Government:
know this is a state issue, but I'd like to see
Portland push it: a State Sales tax with an across-the-board
reduction in property taxes (with exemptions for
food and medical care purchases).”
the future] we don’t rely on a sales tax, but
instead have learned how to budget our tax dollars