By Evan Sernoffsky
The Eugene City Council voted 6-2 at a recent meeting in favor of an amendment to exempt low-income families from a proposed income tax to help out schools, and make the wealthy pay more.
On May 17 Eugene voters will decide whether to impose a local income tax to raise more than $16 million a year for the Eugene and Bethel school districts.
The proposed tax measure is similar to one passed in Multnomah County in January that eased severe budget shortfalls in the Portland area. Eugene city councilors used the Multnomah County tax model when drafting their measure.
An earlier version of the tax measure was passed a week before with no exemption for low-income residents. After that vote, City Councilor George Brown said that upon further reflection he decided it did not reflect Eugene’s true values. He said something needed to be done about school closures, but not at the expense of families below the federal poverty line.
Councilor Mike Clark wanted the measure thrown out altogether. Clark said he has been receiving e-mails from frustrated constituents in his district about his vote in favor of the original measure and wanted to reconsider it.
The city manager said the time to reconsider is during the City Council’s next meeting, which would have been the prior week.
His hands tied, Clark said he did what he believed was the next best thing. He voted no on the modified tax proposal. “I have gotten a good deal of input from people in my ward and I don’t think I can support this change,” he said.
Councilor George Poling said that the new adjustment is unfair. He said that tough times require all residents to tighten their belts, and that “if you have a dollar, you should kick some to this tax.”
Clark argued that if this measure is passed, it will contribute to Oregonians having the highest income taxes in the nation. “That’s a distinction I’m not comfortable with,” he said.
Councilor Alan Zelenka noted that because Oregon does not have a sales tax, the income tax comparison is inaccurate and does not reflect how much residents pay in taxes. Zelenka said when all taxes are factored in, Oregon falls in the middle of the pack nationally. He voted yes on the amendment.
Pat Farr, councilor for west Eugene, said that raising income taxes is not a good way to fund services like schools, but under the circumstances, he voted yes on the measure. “People will have to make an educated decision,” he said. “But I still don’t like raising income taxes.”
“People from the community are asking for us to step up and help,” Mayor Kitty Piercy said before the amendment went to a vote. “I think this is a more humane measure.”
This article originally appeared here.