Ever since Tom "The Silver Fox" Potter took over this year as mayor, Southwest 4th has been way too kumbaya for Schnozzo's taste. In fact, it's too often seemed like the only unhappy camper in Portland politics is the Oregonian editorial page. (It pushed for Portland staying in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, against Erik Sten's grab for PGE, and against his effort to use public money to pay for political campaigns. Is the Nose hallucinating, or is the O losing more often than the Mariners?)
Thank Gawd, then, for Randy Leonard, Dan Saltzman and their spat over a cell-phone tax. The two commissioners are sniping over the annual $11 million the city expects to rake in with a 5 percent tariff on the filthy text messages the Nose sends...and other wireless phone services.
Leonard, who first suggested taxing cell phones last year, wants the money for cops, firefighters, skate parks and other services. Saltzman, who coincidentally faces re-election next year, surprised Leonard and the rest of the city by saying, "Hey, taxing cell phones is a dandy idea, but I've got a better use for the money: a trust fund for Portland's strapped public schools!"
Upstaging another commissioner's tax proposal by suggesting an even more popular place to spend the money? Priceless.
The two slap-boxed in Council chambers last week. Leonard asked Saltzman exactly which fire stations he would close, which pools he would drain, which meth freaks he would free. Saltzman countered that not giving the cash to schools would chase more families to Vancouver and hasten Portland's slouch toward Gomorrah or, worse, San Francisco.
That was the public debate. In private, the Nose hears, the profanities resembled the cries you might hear at a bikini waxing.
Much as he'd like to continue drunk-dialing ex-girlfriends without paying his Debt to Society, the Nose isn't particularly offended by the cell-phone tax. Revenues from landline taxes have been down about 30 percent in Portland for the past five years, and many other cities tax cell phones, including that hotbed of communist wealth redistribution, Vancouver, U.S.A.
While schools probably could use the money, the Nose views this as yet one more dab of Neosporin on the third-degree burn that passes for Oregon's tax system. We let the pols pass cell-phone taxes but lack the balls to prevent utilities from collecting taxes from customers that they never pass on to government. We allow local governments to tack on an income tax but can't raise the corporate minimum income tax above $10. We hold auctions and bake sales but can't come to grips with the strangling effect of PERS. We can rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic-oops, the Nose stepped right up to the precipice of clichédom there.
Go ahead, use the cash for schools. But if Saltzman-or anyone-lists this "achievement" on his campaign literature as evidence of leadership, it will be just another sign that Portland's "leaders" can't get beyond tinkering around the edges of problems to push for real reform. If that's the case, wake the Nose when it's over. Our cell phone will be set on vibrate.