Oregon Supreme Court to review Portland Arts Tax

Arts tax gets review from state supreme court

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Retired corporate attorney George Wittemyer took his battle against Portland’s Arts Tax to the Oregon Supreme Court on Monday. He believes it is unconstitutional and wants it struck down.

“I think they were strict with me - and I didn’t respond nearly as well as Denis did and they were strict with him too. I thought they did an excellent and a very fair job,” he said.

Denis Vannier is the attorney representing the City of Portland. He has not lost in the battle to preserve the tax.

“I have a terrible record. I'm four and zero as far as success goes. The trial court and the three court of appeals judges have all ruled against me,” Wittemyer said.

The court did not indicate when it will issue a ruling.

Vannier said he is confident the high court will make the right decision. He’s convinced the Portland Arts Tax is constitutional.

“It has exclusions based on property, income and resources, and for that reason it is not a poll tax under the Oregon Constitution,” he said.

Wittemyer disagrees. He believes the arts tax is a “poll tax” or “head tax” which is prohibited by the Oregon Constitution.

“It is a flat, 35 dollar tax against everyone who qualifies as an eligible taxpayer, regardless of their income, their financial resources or whatever financial success they may have,” he said.

The city put exclusions in place to keep the burden off those who cannot afford it.

The tax excludes anyone who is not:

  • A resident of Portland
  • 18 or older
  • Made at least $1,000 in the year that is being taxed
  • Living in a household where the income is over the federal poverty line
  • Earning money from a government pension

Because the tax is based on income, the city argues and lower courts have agreed it does not qualify as a “poll tax."

Wittenmyer would not give up and has taken his fight to what he admits will be his last court battle on this issue. But he is determined that he is right.

“Once you're excluded then everyone else is in the group and its a flat tax on everybody regardless of their financial resources."

Wittenmyer said he plays a musical instrument and believes music and art is just as important as sports in school. But he’s offended that the city is imposing a tax in a way that he believes in unconstitutional, and he’s glad he’s pushed the point.

© 2017 KGW-TV


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