Portland's arts tax is constitutional, judge rules

PORTLAND, Ore. - A judge has ruled Portland's controversial arts tax is constitutional, city officials said Thursday.

The arts tax, which has seen a series of legal challenges and complaints since it was passed in November, had been the subject of a lawsuit that claimed it wasn't constitutional on the argument that it is a "head tax," or a tax on everybody.

In the ruling, Circuit Judge Kelly Skye wrote: "The arts tax is not a poll or head tax because it is not assessed per capita."

The ruling puts to end the uncertainty of the future of the tax, which was passed by 62 percent of Portland voters. The $35-a-person tax provides money for arts educators in public schools and pays for arts organizations in the area.

In May, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales - while knowing about the pending lawsuit - dispersed some of the tax money to six school districts, provided they would pay a portion back if the tax were deemed unconstitutional.

Hales said he plans to seek legal advice before moving forward with the rest of the money from the arts tax.

"Asked and answered," Hales said in a statement. "Can the challenges be appealed? Yes, but we don't know that they will. We want to wait to hear from the city attorney regarding our best options, and then we want to get the input of the entire city council before moving forward."

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