If you live in the city of Portland, chances are good you have three tax measures on your ballot. Supporters of county libraries, schools, and the arts are all asking voters for money this election. Rob Manning rounds up the three measures.
Portland high school senior Alexia Garcia is trying to build enthusiasm at a recent campaign rally.
“Great schools — build a great city!” “Great schools – build a great city!”
Garcia co-chairs the campaign to pass the $482 million dollar school construction bond, meant to repair, improve, and even re-build some schools.
Garcia said, “I’ve been at Portland Public Schools since kindergarten, along with many other students that have been working on the school bond campaign. So, over the summer, I met with some of these students, and we shared stories about the condition of our schools — mostly negative stories.”
It would fund seismic upgrades, new science labs, roof replacements, and could fully renovate or replace four schools.
There’s one other school-related tax measure for Portlanders — to raise more than $12 million a year. Jessica Jarrett-Miller says roughly two-thirds of it would fund arts education in public schools.
She explained, “This is a brand new $35 income tax for adults who earn an income and families above the poverty level in our city. It will fund teachers in every single Portland elementary school, and get us back toward the national average for arts education in our schools.”
Advocacy for the third tax measure on Portland’s ballot seems quiet by comparison. Maybe that’s appropriate — it’s for the library.
Fred Maxwell shows his support for the creation of a permanently funded library system with a silent protest, once a week.
Maxwell explains, “Speak loudly by not saying a word.”
If the library measure passes, the library would again open on Mondays. And it would stabilize funding – no more temporary levies.
Maxwell believes voters the average tax increase of fifty dollars a year isn’t too much.
“I’m thinking that a buck a week for the library, to maintain – in this information age – cheap. Cheap,” he said.
There are critics of the three measures, but not much organized opposition.
Portland Public Schools failed to pass its bond last year, when voters approved a levy for teachers. This year’s bond is smaller, but some say, it’s still too big.
The arts measure has faced criticism because it’s sending some money to arts organizations, rather than just to schools.
And some argue a library district would deprive other key county services.
Portlanders in the past have supported causes like arts, schools, and libraries. But at what cost?
Steve Oppenheim says his property tax bill and his ballot arrived at the same time — and that influenced his vote.
Oppenheim said, “I was thinking very much, ‘oh my God – what can I afford next year?’ — because this year, I’m barely able to make it.”
He says he chose to approve the arts education measure because of his daughter. He says she got a good arts education and went on to study art in college.
He explained, “It gave her some direction in her life, which I thought was very important. And so that’s why I felt that I could support it, because it actually — I could relate to the needs of the children through my own child.”
Oppenheim planned to vote “no” on the school bond, he says because of an emphasis on new construction over maintenance. And he says he’d rather fund the libraries through temporary levies, than by creating a new library district.
Other voters are also picking and choosing, but they’ve reached other conclusions.
Jim Hennings told OPB, “I voted ‘no’ on the arts one, and ‘yes’ on the library.”
Hennings says his personal experience also guided his votes on the tax measures. He sat on a county advisory committee, and learned a lot about how the libraries are funded.
Hennings said, “I had always assumed that the library was part of the government and would be funded permanently, as part of the government. But it is not. It gets some funding from the county, but it gets most of its funding from the levies it puts on repeatedly.”
Hennings was on the fence on the school construction bond. He saw the need, but felt Portland Public Schools hadn’t done enough to maintain their buildings.
If all three measures pass, they would increase taxes by $250, for a single Portlander living in a home appraised at $150 thousand . The school bond would account for $165 of that amount.
Sources for this story came from OPB’s Public Insight Network. To find out more, go to opb.org/publicinsight