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Portland Arts Tax Survives Another Legal Challenge

Portland’s arts tax survived another legal challenge Thursday, with a ruling by a circuit judge. The plaintiff in the case, George Wittemyer argued the arts tax was an illegal “head tax.”

Judge Kelly Skye ruled in a decision the city received Thursday that “the arts tax is not a poll or head tax because it is not assessed per capita.”

Portland City Hall

Portland City Hall

Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/OPB

The tax requires adults in Portland to pay a $35 fee — though some people are exempt, depending on their income level, or type of income.

The mayor’s spokesman, Dana Haynes, says city officials are responding to the decision with a mix of jubilation and caution.

“The first thought was ‘yay, we won, this is a major legal hurdle.’ The second thought was ‘ok, now, can we be challenged?’ The answer is yes. So we’re going to ask the city attorney ‘what is the risk?’”

Haynes says the city council is likely to discuss the ruling next week with city attorneys.

He says if city leaders conclude the judge’s decision is likely to survive an appeal, then they’ll distribute the money to school districts and arts organizations, as called for in the measure voters approved.

If not, city leaders could hold off on doling out the money, until there’s more legal certainty. 

The city arts tax has also survived a challenge in federal tax court. 

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