New Street Fee Survey Says: Tax the Rich

Novick finds strong support for income tax on people who make more than $125,000 a year.

City Commissioner Steve Novick has had the city pay for another phone survey—the third this year—trying to find a popular way to raise about $50 million a year to pave Portland streets.

He may have found one: an income tax on the city's richest people.

The survey, conducted last month by Davis, Hibbitts, & Midghall, shows Portlanders clearly favor an income tax that places the biggest burden on people making more than $500,000 a year.

"Portlanders supported, by a margin of 60% to 37%, the idea of an income tax of 1% on incomes above $125,000, 2% on income above $250,000, and 3% on income above $500,000," the survey summary says.

But pollsters found softer support for an income tax the people taking the survey might actually have to pay. Fifty percent of people polled said they'd support an income tax of one-half of one percent on citizens making less than $100,000 a year.

"The most common concern we heard about the residential fee was that it was regressive," Novick said today in a statement. "So we tested new versions of the progressive income tax."

Novick took a barrage of criticism in May when he debuted a street-fee plan that would charge Portland households a flat fee of $144 a year to fix the city's street-paving backlog. He and Mayor Charlie Hales delayed the proposal after small businesses recoiled at the plan to charge them even more.

The new phone survey found mixed reactions to an idea Novick suggested to WW last month: raising the city tax on business profits. People polled opposed that idea 48 percent to 47 percent.

UPDATE, 2:18 pm: Following a records request by WW, Novick's office has released the full results of the survey, along with 40 pages of data on the people polled. Novick says his office paid for the survey, which cost $16,500. (Previous surveys by the same pollster have cost the transportation bureau $28,000 each.)

Novick says he'll present the survey findings to the working groups that are re-working the street fee proposal. (Those groups now include some of the fee's harshest critics: petroleum lobbyist Paul Romain and Woodstock hair-salon owner Ann Sanderson, who started the online "Stop the Portland Street Fee" campaign.)

One idea that won't be considered: a sales tax.

A sales tax of one-quarter of one percent received dismal polling numbers, with 59 percent of people saying they'd oppose it.

"One message I take from the survey," Novick says, "is that a sales tax is unacceptable to such a large percentage of Portlanders that we can safely say that's off the table."

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