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Portland Arts Tax Fails To Deliver On Some Ballot Promises


Portland’s arts tax is not performing as promised, when voters approved it three years ago, according to a new audit out Tuesday.

The arts tax’s biggest problem is simple: Not enough people are paying the $35.   

“The money is getting where voters intended, but it’s not as much as was intended. And there are fewer Portlanders participating as the ballot measure intended, as well,” said Drummond Kahn, director of audits for the city of Portland.   

A 2015 audit by the Office of the Portland City Auditor found that a voter-approved arts tax has delivered on three promises, out of seven, made in the ballot measure language.

A 2015 audit by the Office of the Portland City Auditor found that a voter-approved arts tax has delivered on three promises, out of seven, made in the ballot measure language.

Office of the Portland City Auditor

Kahn said the arts tax is meeting some goals, such as employing more than 80 arts teachers in area schools.

“The concern is that some key promises on issues like compliance and collections and the revenue generated are below expectations,” Kahn said. “The revenues are below estimates. The arts tax generates about $8-9 million a year, but the goal was to generate about $12 million annually.”

Collections reached $10.5 million this past year, but they were lower in the previous two years.

City officials expected an 85 percent compliance rate. The audit found it’s never been above 72 percent.    

The low collection rate is a big reason the city’s administrative costs are more than expected.  

The audit confirmed that the tax money is being distributed appropriately, reaching Portland-area schools first. But the it also shows there were few dollars remaining for arts organizations.

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