Arts Education & Access Income Tax: City of Portland Ballot Measure 26-146: “Arts Education & Access

Portland had tried at the ballot box to boost arts funding in the past. In 1987, Portland voters turned back an art-related tax by 20 percentage points.[i] Wanting to emulate successful, more recent voter-approved funding efforts aimed at affordable housing and greenspaces, as a candidate for Portland’s City Council, Adams proposed dedicated funding for the arts.[ii]

The Act for Art strategic planning process made clear the need to restore arts education in the six school districts within Portland. The Creative Advocacy Network (CAN) was the nonprofit founded to drive forward efforts to create a permanent dedicated local arts funding source, to decide how the money would be raised, and how to distribute it.[iii]

CAN’s levy-making efforts began as an effort for a tri-county region ballot measure. Its focus narrowed on the Portland region after the steering committee agreed there was a lack of adequate political and voter support in Washington and Clackamas counties.[iv]

The Portland measure was crafted to help address the most severe arts and culture problems facing Portlanders: Children from economically-challenged families couldn’t get art education classes at school, and too many arts organizations, even very popular ones, teeter on the edge of the financial abyss. [v]

Learn More: https://web.archive.org/web/20100316050025/http://theartscan.org/about-can/

Measure 26-146 was designed to help address that disparity in access by restoring regular arts education instruction to Portland’s primary grade students, and by increasing access to the arts for all students and Portland’s “underserved communities.”

With some exclusions,[vi] the funding mechanism was a $35 per year income tax, levied on income taxpayers in households over the federal poverty level.[vii] The backers of the measure chose the $35 income tax amount because:

  • Polling showed Portlanders supported the $35 income tax approach

  • Using a more progressive tax rate approach would cost an estimated $4 million to administer instead of the projected $500,000.

  • Property taxes were not an option because Measure 5 limitations would not allow the City to invest directly in schools and every sales tax option explored was both more regressive, more expensive to collect and politically unpopular. [viii]

The City forecasted that a $35 income tax would raise $12.2 million, which was proposed to be allocated five ways.[ix]

  • $6.4 million, to fund art teachers for Portland students, K-5. This allocation must be funded completely before funds flow to other categories.[x] The idea was to make regular, in-school art class available to all children in primary grades.

  • $366,000 to fund teachers on special assignment for multi-district arts education coordination. Coordinators would work to ensure that teachers have the support and professional development they need to provide a K-12 arts curriculum. Coordinators also would work as liaisons between schools and community-based arts programs, including artist residencies, classrooms, fter school arts programs, field trips and professional development for teachers.

  • $1.63 million to fund grants that schools and non-profits apply for, to provide arts programs both to K-12 students and underserved residents in the city. This is part of the “arts access” section of the measure. [xi]

  • $3.8 million to fund grants from the Regional Arts & Culture Council to non-profit arts organizations.

  • Administrative costs, originally capped at 5% of the all tax proceeds; citizens advisory committee would oversee the City’s management of the measure. [xii]

With over 80 percent of registered voters participating, in November 2010, the measure won by a landslide.


  • 61.86% voted “yes,”; 38.14% voted “no.” [xiii]

  • Out of 102 precincts, the measure won in 94.

  • In the few regions it lost, the vote was close. For example, in one precinct, it lost by three votes; in another it lost by four.

  • The measure was a little less popular further east toward the eastern edge of the city.

  • It was a bit more popular in the “Bungalow Belt” and downtown.[xiv]

  • In terms of income[xv] and poverty[xvi] rates for the city, Southeast Portland has more people below the poverty line than other sections, but the precincts that so heavily supported the measure seemed to have about as many people below the poverty line as those that didn’t.[xvii]

The Portland Mercury supported the proposal, writing, “Arts budgets are worth protecting in a special fund because theater, drawing, dance, and music are often the first sacrifices by schools and government when times get tough. But they're an integral part of this city, they attract employers who want healthy schools, and they should be integral to students' education—even though there are no "arts" bubbles to fill in on the standardized tests that sadly dictate curriculums.[xviii]

Willamette Week opposed it, “the backers of the "arts tax" begin with a valid premise. Arts education in schools is dwindling…But that this measure, “is being sold as a solution for schools, when the original (and as far as we can tell, primary) motivation was to provide a new subsidy for nonprofit arts groups,” and organizations already have the means to raise funds through seeking charitable donations.[xix]

The Oregonian was the most vehement media opponent of Measure 26-146. The editorial board at the Oregonian also opposed the library taxing district measure on the same ballot, but less stridently and often than it fought the arts tax.[xx]

Except for one story news story, its coverage was largely critical in tone, and in the last weeks of the campaign, three different Oregonian reporters were simultaneously questioning the campaign manager on themes negative about the measure.[xxi] The Oregonian wrote and published a poll question that its own pollster said was worded to provide an overly negative finding.[xxii] Weeks before election day, their poll predicted 48% of Portlanders were against the arts measure, when it won with 62% approval. [xxiii]

The Oregonian arguments opposing the measure were threefold. First, was that voluntary charitable donations, not tax dollars should fund the arts.[xxiv] Second, that math, science and writing elementary school classes are more important than art classes.[xxv] And, third, public schools are not city government’s problem to solve.[xxvi] The Oregonian also complained that the proposed Portland arts tax is regressive and likely illegal.[xxvii]

But Street Roots, the newspaper representing the city’s poorest citizens supported 26-146, countered the “regressiveness” argument;

Art is everywhere in Portland. It’s at the core of our city’s personality. But in our core institutions, particularly for children and the poor, art is either nonexistent or out of financial and social reach. The benefits of arts training – on math skills, cognitive processing and simply our joie de vie – are well documented.”[xxviii]

Also, on this topic, Oregon ArtsWatch wrote, “we can fund not only public-school programs but also programs generating community involvement among people who are socially and economically marginalized.” The Oregonian did not evenly apply their concerns about regressive taxes. In 2016, they supported a city gas tax, even while admitting but brushing off the fact that it too was regressive, as they defined it.[xxix]

Even after a lower court ruled the draft ballot measure legal, the Oregonian repeatedly wrote that the measure was flawed because it was a likely a “head tax,” which would be against state law.[xxx] In 2017, as expected, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the Arts Tax was constitutional.[xxxi]




Footnotes

[i] Editorial Board (July 22, 2012). “New problems for a bad tax.” The Oregonian. [ii] Row, D.K. (September 9, 2009). “Poll says we want stable arts funding.” The Oregonian. [iii] Row, D.K. (December 14, 2009). “The quest: raise millions more for the arts each year.” The Oregonian. Living Section. [iv] Row., D.K. (March 4, 2012). “Arts funding plays part in Portland candidate’s forum.” The Oregonian. Sunday Feature Section. [v] Johnson, Barry (Match 28. 2013). "City Council passes a small Arts Tax adjustment: The tax The Oregonian hates just keeps getting better..." http://www.orartswatch.org/city-council-passes-a-small-arts-tax-adjustment/. Oregon Arts Watch. Retrieved 2018-28-2. [vi] City of Portland, https://www.portlandoregon.gov/revenue/61551 [vii] Multnomah County Elections Department (October 2012). “Measure 26-146: Restore School Arts, Music education; Fund Arts Through Limited Tax.” https://multco.us/file/11070/download. Retrieved 2018-18-2. [viii] Johnson, Barry (November 18, 2012). “The arts tax that wouldn’t die: A few notes about the campaign to restore arts education in Portland schools.” http://www.orartswatch.org/the-arts-tax-that-wouldnt-die/. Oregon Arts Watch. Retrieved 2018-24-2. [ix] The Arts Can website https://web.archive.org/web/20121016050620/www.http://theartscan.org Retrieved 28-26-2. [x] Penkin, Stanley (October 12, 2017). "My View: Portland, let's embrace the arts tax." https://portlandtribune.com/pt/10-opinion/375002-258612-my-view-portland-lets-embrace-the-arts-tax. Portland Tribune. [xi] Editorial Board (July 22, 2012). “New problems for a bad tax.” The Oregonian. [xii] Adams, Samuel (October 2012) “Multnomah County Online Voters' Guide for the November 2012 General Election.”https://multco.us/sites/default/files/elections/documents/26-146_vp_nov_12.pdf. Retrieved 2018-23-2. [xiii] Penkin, Stanley (October 12, 2017). "My View: Portland, let's embrace the arts tax." https://portlandtribune.com/pt/10-opinion/375002-258612-my-view-portland-lets-embrace-the-arts-tax. Portland Tribune. [xiv] Johnson, Barry (November 18, 2012). “The arts tax that wouldn’t die: A few notes about the campaign to restore arts education in Portland schools.” http://www.orartswatch.org/the-arts-tax-that-wouldnt-die/. Oregon Arts Watch. Retrieved 2018-24-2. [xv] The Portland Plan. “Income by District Coalition.” http://www.portlandonline.com/portlandplan/index.cfm?c=52257. Retrieved 28-25-2. [xvi] The Portland Plan. "2000 persons below poverty by census tract." http://www.portlandonline.com/portlandplan/index.cfm?c=52257&a=288632. Retrieved 28-25-2. [xvii] Johnson, Barry (November 18, 2012). “The arts tax that wouldn’t die: A few notes about the campaign to restore arts education in Portland schools.” http://www.orartswatch.org/the-arts-tax-that-wouldnt-die/. Oregon Arts Watch. Retrieved 2018-24-2. [xviii] Editorial Board (October 18, 2012). “Measure 26-146 (Arts Tax): YES.” https://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/desperation-row/Content?oid=7320285. Portland Mercury. Retrieved 28-25-2. [xix] Editorial Board (October 16, 2012). "Measure 26-146 - City of Portland Arts Tax." http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-19785-risky-business.html. Willamette Week. Retrieved 2018-27-2. [xx] Johnson, Barry (November 18, 2012). “The arts tax that wouldn’t die: A few notes about the campaign to restore arts education in Portland schools.” http://www.orartswatch.org/the-arts-tax-that-wouldnt-die/. Oregon Arts Watch. Retrieved 2018-24-2. [xxi] Johnson, Barry (November 18, 2012). “The arts tax that wouldn’t die: A few notes about the campaign to restore arts education in Portland schools.” http://www.orartswatch.org/the-arts-tax-that-wouldnt-die/. Oregon Arts Watch. Retrieved 2018-24-2. [xxii] Johnson, Barry (November 18, 2012). “The arts tax that wouldn’t die: A few notes about the campaign to restore arts education in Portland schools.” http://www.orartswatch.org/the-arts-tax-that-wouldnt-die/. Oregon Arts Watch. Retrieved 2018-24-2. [xxiii] Johnson, Barry (March 28, 2013). “City Council passes a small Arts Tax adjustment: The tax The Oregonian hates just keeps getting better...” http://www.orartswatch.org/city-council-passes-a-small-arts-tax-adjustment/. Oregon Arts Watch. Retrieved 2018-27-2. [xxiv] Editorial Board (September 25, 2012). “Vote no on Portland arts tax.” The Oregonian. [xxv] Editorial Board (June 24, 2012). “Arts tax a well-intentioned mistake.” The Oregonian. [xxvi] Editorial Board (September 27, 2017). “Portland City Council should send arts tax back to voters.” The Oregonian. [xxvii] Editorial Board (October 21, 2012). “Our endorsements.” The Oregonian [xxviii] Johnson, Barry (November 18, 2012). “The arts tax that wouldn’t die: A few notes about the campaign to restore arts education in Portland schools.” http://www.orartswatch.org/the-arts-tax-that-wouldnt-die/. Oregon Arts Watch. Retrieved 2018-24-2. [xxix] Editorial Board (January 23, 2016). “Portland gas tax, meet the Portland arts tax Commissioner Steve Novick should propose a re-vote on the “highly regressive” arts tax.” The Oregonian. [xxx] Johnson, Barry (October 22, 2012). “Regress this: Some thoughts about the arts tax Taxes, values and suspicion: a discussion of 26-146.” http://www.orartswatch.org/regress-this-some-thoughts-about-the-arts-tax/ Oregon Art Watch. Retrieved 2018-25-2. [xxxi] Editorial Board (June 12, 2016). “On Portland’s arts tax, a court victory for a bad policy.” The Oregonian

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