Last year, the local-option property tax that funds Portland Public Schools expired. This year, the Multnomah County income tax will expire.
How should Portland voters fill that gap? A new income tax? A new property tax? Nothing at all?
The Oregonian weighs in today:
Some school advocates are leaning toward a citywide income tax as the surest, safest and most lucrative way to proceed. Some of them pine for an income tax that would last as long as 10 years. ... It would raise $10 million for every tenth of 1 percent of a tax, which adds up fast. A 0.8 percent income tax, for example, would raise $80 million a year, to be split among the city's five school districts. What's more, voter approval wouldn't be subject to the double-majority requirements of a property tax.
Still, we think it makes more sense for the Portland School Board to ask voters in May to approve a new five-year, local-option property tax. It's a stable, broad-based tax, and it's a normal part of the state's school-funding system. The Portland levy would raise only about $35 million a year, which isn't enough to plug the $50 million hole. However, the district could make up the difference with a combination of reserves, cuts and supplemental funds from the city and business community. Those supplemental funds would end by the 2007-08 school year, assuming the state Legislature passes a better schools budget by then.
Portland School Board members have a third option for balancing next year's budget, of course. They could thrill the district's critics by cutting the full $50 million and relying solely on state funding, which has fallen below the national per-student average. That option, however, is unacceptable to everyone who wants their schools to be better than average -- or even exceptional. Portland can do better.