Second Lawsuit Says Arts Tax Violates U.S. Constitution

Since WW first reported in March that Lewis & Clark Law School professor and recently retired blogger Jack Bogdanski sued the city of Portland over the arts tax in Oregon Tax Court, his legal challenge has received much of the attention—and blame—as Portland struggles to collect and distribute the $35-a-person tax.

But Bogdanski, who alleges the arts tax violates the state's constitution, isn't the only person suing the city over the error-riddled tax.

Until now, no media outlet has closely examined the second legal challenge. And that suit—filed on March 22 in Multnomah County Circuit Court—says the arts tax also violates the United States Constitution.

George Wittemyer, a Northwest Portland resident who lives near Forest Park, claims that the arts tax violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment by creating a "poll tax" tied to voter registration—the same kind of poll tax used to disenfranchise African-American voters in the Jim Crow era.

Wittemyer is basing that claim on the city using voter rolls as a way to determine who owes the tax.

"Defendant's 'arts tax' defies all legal definitions of an income tax," Wittemyer writes. "It makes the affluence of the voter or payment of any fee an election standard. In fact, voter qualifications have no relation to wealth nor to paying or not paying defendant's 'arts tax.'"

The arts tax challenge is the last of three claims in Wittemyer's suit. His other two claims are demands for compensation because Portland Parks & Recreation wouldn't let him hook up his home water line to parks utility service. His Forest Park house burned down in 2006, and he says the parks bureau reneged on a water-service deal when he rebuilt. Wittemyer wants $40,000 in damages.

Don't forget: The arts tax is due tomorrow, May 15.

WWeek 2015

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.