Meaner than a junkyard dog

The tax climate in Portland is stunningly bad. Homeless income tax, preschool income tax, payroll tax and self-employment income tax for mass transit, arts head tax, county and city business income taxes, city gas tax, city Uber tax, it goes on and on. We even had a city leaf-pickup tax for a while there, thanks to Creepy Sam Adams, the born-again change agent. Successful people would be well-advised to stay away.

But making matters worse is the attitude of the people they have collecting most of these taxes. As I noted when Multnomah County and the Metro government hired the Portland City Hall tax agency to collect their new income taxes, those folks are particularly vicious.

In keeping with that theme, this week we learn about the thousands of taxpayers who are getting hit with nasty letters threatening penalties and interest for alleged nonpayment of the Metro homeless and county preschool taxes. Many of the taxpayers say they in fact paid the taxes and are being dunned wrongfully. 

When they called the city to get answers, Greenberg said they were put on hold for hours as number 185 in the phone line queue. Eventually, they got through to a customer service representative with the Bureau of Revenue and Financial Services.

“They didn’t know, didn’t have an answer and had to go to the managers,” said Greenberg. Eventually, the city acknowledged that Greenberg had paid the taxes in full but declined to provide any paperwork.

It's par for the course. One time the city dinged me for $2.96. They apparently had somebody look at the postmark on the envelope I sent my money in, and determine it was a day or two late. The federal IRS doesn't pull that kind of stunt. Even the Oregon Department of Revenue has more common sense. But the Portland Revenue Division is absolutely ruthless. They will spare no time and expense to screw you. And when in doubt, you, not they, are at fault.

Most of the current flap seems to flow from the requirement that the homeless and preschool taxes be paid quarterly. What a pain in the rear. The Metro and county politicians should be ashamed. They have a lot of nerve imposing these taxes to begin with; the least they could do is lay off the whole time-value-of-money shtick and let it be just a once-a-year thing, like the Tri-Met mass transit taxes. But no, they listened to the Portland bureacrats and went for that extra pound of flesh.

Having been in the tax game for more than four decades, I can tell you, you'd much rather deal with the federal IRS than the hideous Portland City Hall tax collectors, any day of the week.

Here in Oregon we need a Local Taxpayer Bill of Rights to rein in the overzealous and incompetent City Hall bureaucrats. So call Lew Frederick and Khanh Pham; I'm sure they and their pals in the legislature will get right on it. Ha! Ha! Only kidding. Call your realtor.


  1. Well, I don’t know about Oregon DOR having more common sense. Two years ago I did a Roth IRA conversion in December, and paid 9% of the conversion amount on December 15 as an estimated payment. I ended up getting dinged $5 for not paying the estimated tax over the whole year. Weasels!

    1. You could have avoided that $5 by spending a couple of hours doing precise quarterly calculations. There may still be time! Get on it and get your fin back!

    2. And I'll bet they didn't check the postmark.

    3. Oregon DoR has messed up my taxes twice over the years. Both times I received letters soon after filing; the call wait times were not too bad; they acknowledged their mistakes and fixed them without complaining or dragging their heels. Contrast this with Portland DoR that took over 2-1/2 years to inform me that they thought I hadn't paid the Arts Tax one year. Fortunately, I had records showing payment. They had lost my check. Much wrangling. No apology. Horrible experience. Obviously, other people's results will vary, but these are mine.

  2. I've heard many complaints about your favorite tax, the Arts Tax. Seems retired folks living solely on Social Security are getting nastigrams as well.

    1. Well they say accounting is an art, so...

  3. Vicious and incompetent. Wholly agree that they should abandon the quarterly estimated payments entirely. In the absence of that, the least they can do is publish an annualized income form, so that people whose incomes vary throughout the year have an opportunity to pay quarterly based on their actual income, not four equal payments of 25%. Folks with stock investments and those who run their own businesses will tend to have uneven income. Washington DC and NY City have local income taxes, and they both have annualized income forms. The fact that Portland Revenue doesn't just goes to show what an unprofessional outfit it is.

    Further, dinging almost 12,000 households with letters just adds to people's frustration with these taxes. As soon as interest rates go down, I suspect the moving vans of so-called high-income earners leaving Portland will be clogging up the highways.


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