Editor’s note: Columnist Robert Eringer traveled up the coast this week to Portland, Ore.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Only a handful of states within the U.S. have no state income tax.
And only a handful of states have no sales tax — a tax that often surges by a city and/or county sales tax.
For instance, California’s base sales tax is 7.25%. But add city and county sales tax in Santa Barbara, and you pay 8.75% on almost all purchases, from a mug of joe to a six-figure automobile.
If you are willing to relocate, like so many Californians are doing lately, here is how to beat the system by avoiding (not evading) both state and sales tax and thus enabling you to save a lot of brazhort (a real consideration these days if you are fed up — as many are — with how Uncle Sam and state treasuries appropriate your money.
Oregon in the Pacific Northwest may be the best deal going, and that isn’t limited to the state’s inexpensive real estate prices.
When a server delivers your check at an Oregon restaurant, you can hardly believe your eyes. You glance at the tab and go, “This can’t be real — they must have forgotten something.” But no, it’s all there, fair prices absent a steep percentage for tax.
Compare, say, a $10 cocktail (not happy hour) to the $21 charged by the gougers along Coast Village Road in Montecito, which, with tax and tip, tops out beyond 25 bucks.
But there is a way to lessen your tax burden and preserve your savings without even residing in the Beaver State.
Live in Vancouver.
No, not Canada.
This Vancouver is in Washington state, situated across the river from Portland, offering awesome views of the mighty Columbia River along with the Stumptown city skyline.
If you reside in Vancouver, you pay no state income tax because the Evergreen State does not demand one.
For your consumer needs, whether groceries or sundries or clothes or jewelry or gasoline, simply cross the Interstate Bridge and minutes later you are in The Beaver State — great shopping and no sales tax.
However, this caveat…
I love Portland. As cities go in the United States, I’ve always thought it is one of the best.
But this town is not easily making a rebound from COVID closures and the riots of 2020.
It isn’t just about homeless camping out in tents or without tents. It is about homeless incidents.
My first morning in town I opted for coffee at Starbucks in Pioneer Courthouse Square, the hub of downtown Portland.
No tables and chairs. Not even a shelf to stand by for enjoying one’s latte. This, apparently, is Starbucks’ answer in big cities for dealing with the homeless, who would otherwise invade the premises and camp out all day. (I recommend Case Study Coffee Roasters.)
As I walked into Starbucks, a disheveled adult male was in the midst of a major wig-out with staff over some misperceived slight. A lone security guard (no commercial establishment operates without one or two, often as doormen) stood up to the angry, loud and abusive tramp, nose to nose, and had every right to toss him out the door, having asked him politely to leave and being told, “Make me, a—hole.” But you can’t blame him for not actually pushing him out the door and risking his safety because It’s not like the cops in this town would back him up.
Makes me think of the old Amex ad campaign “Don’t leave home without it.”
In Portland, sorry to say, don’t leave home without pepper spray.
Later, I stopped into Azar, my favorite chocolate shop, within The Heathman, a four-star hotel on SW Broadway. The owner told me hers is the only chocolate shop in town to survive the lockdown and riots. Now it’s LOCKED-IN. She unbolted the door for me to enter. It is otherwise locked, she says, because of “homeless incidents every day.” The day before, she told me, a homeless woman had run in, grabbed the tip jar with a few bucks in it and run out, leaving behind her coat and sleeping bag.
Not very smart in this winter’s chill. But as local business owners will tell you, mental illness is a large part of the problem.
Aside from the homeless, downtown streets are mostly quiet and deserted, not too different from my last visit here in July 2000 at the height of the protests and rioting. (I had to see what was going down for myself to believe it — and quite an appalling spectacle it was.) But at least now the shops are open instead of boarded up and plastered with graffiti. (That is, those that still exist; many commercial premises were vacated during COVID and remain in search of new tenants).
But where are the shoppers? When I popped into Nike’s flagship store, it had more staff (including two security doormen) than customers, the number of whom I could count on one hand.
The town I once nicknamed Sneaker Ville (Adidas is also headquartered here) is sadly in need of a new soul, even if one feels sorrow for the countless lost souls wandering aimlessly through city streets.
Some redemption comes in the form of Domaine Serene Wine Lounge. Their premier wine — ordered by the glass or flight and served in a truly serene setting — does wonders around 5:33 pm to brighten the glumness outside.
GREATER IDAHO MOVEMENT
That is the Idaho House of Representatives’ vote in favor of allowing discussion over a large swath of eastern Oregon joining their state, having adopted this resolution: “The Idaho Legislature stands ready to begin discussions with the Oregon Legislature regarding the potential to relocate the Idaho/Oregon state boundary, in accordance with the will of the citizens of eastern Oregon, and we invite the Oregon Legislature to begin talks on this topic with the Idaho legislature.”
Legislation has already been introduced in Oregon that would require, if approved, to enter talks with Idaho.
The 21% of Oregon’s population residing in counties east of the Cascade mountains range believe they are ignored by those in western Oregon’s large cities, Portland, Eugene and Salem (the state capital). They believe they have much more in common with Idaho’s red state policies than what they view as The Beaver State’s (expensive) urban anarchy.
This is not an Idaho land grab. It began with the residents of 11 eastern counties voting to switch states. Now they are up to 13 counties, roughly two-thirds of state territory.
Those behind the Greater Idaho Movement point out that “Oregon refuses to protect citizens from criminals, rioters, wildfire arsonists, illegals and the homeless but then infringes on your right to defend your family with firearms. Idaho enforces the law.”
In other words, a liberal Portlandia lifestyle does not suit conservative ranchers, loggers and sawmill workers in rural areas.
I asked Matt McCaw, spokesperson for the Greater Idaho Movement, why I cannot find opposition within Oregon to their proposal.
“There is no ongoing popular opposition against us,” he told me.
However, the bill for Oregon’s legislature to open discussion with Idaho, says Mr. McCaw, is stuck in committee because Senate President Peter Courtney “is not interested in looking at it.”
Several polls, both in Idaho and eastern Oregon, strongly support a new boundary so Mr. McCaw is hopeful that Salem’s politicos will come round. “If not this legislation session,” he told me, “we will try again next year.”
A poll conducted by Survey USA asked the question, “Should Oregon’s state government look into what the effect on Oregon would be if Oregon became part of Idaho, and how the transition could be done smoothly?”
Sixty-eight percent said Yes; 20%, No, and 12% Not sure.
I reached out to Oregon Senate President Rob Wagner for his thoughts on the proposed boundary change, also posing a question about why he will not allow the issue to advance beyond committee stage. He did not respond.
If the Greater Idaho Movement prevails, it would most certainly inspire the folks in the rural regions of blue states all around the country who do not want to be dictated to by big city governments, their hugely concentrated populations and non-proportional expenditure.
SECESSION AS A TOOL FOR LOWER TAXES
Secession, while a steeply uphill battle, is not so outlandish as one may think. Declaring yourself independent of the United States is not likely to get you anywhere. But a strategy for part of one state to try to annex with another, or to create a wholly independent state within the U.S., has in the past led to positive results.
Case in point: In 1994, 120 residents of Long Island, off the coast of Maine, successfully seceded from the city of Portland after the city raised property taxes. Long Island held a referendum on election day in 1992 and, by a margin of three-to-one, favored secession. Maine legislators voted to allow the island to secede in so long as the islanders coughed up $1.3 million for city property, which was negotiated down to $600,000.
A Maine lawmaker said at the time, “It’s only fair to let the island’s voters decide their fate.”
Their fate included a 33% decrease in property tax
Just the threat of secession has caused governmental authority to cave in certain instances.
In 1992 , 11 counties in western Kansas threatened to secede and create the new state of West Kansas over the issue of disproportionate school tax. Those united counties planned a constitutional convention. But two weeks before convening, policymakers in Topeka capitulated and reapportioned school tax in favor of all 11 counties.
Bringing it home to Montecito, everybody knows that the city of Santa Barbara takes more than it provides from Coast Village Road, which, everybody also knows, should belong to Montecito but for a bum deal 63 years ago when business and property owners along this stretch voted 38 to 15 to leave the unincorporated county and join the city. One month later the Santa Barbara City Council formally adopted the “Montecito Strip Annexation.”
The spirit with which the part of Montecito annexed itself to Santa Barbara has now dissipated. The revenue brought in by Coast Village Road (property and sales tax) could more directly benefit its inhabitants if these funds were spent on maintenance and upgrades along what has become (since the annexation of 1960) a thriving thoroughfare.
So it makes sense that Coast Village Road’s business and property owners are entitled to a new referendum on whether to remain under the purview of the city or return to the unincorporated county. This is a realistic option for either self-determination or as a tool to exact leverage on the city for meeting its needs — or at least providing services commensurate with what they receive in taxes.
The mechanics for doing so are these: Coast Village Road’s residents and business owners would lobby the Montecito Association to organize a referendum on this issue. If an overwhelming majority votes in favor of splitting from the city, they could rightfully announce a return to county control (like the rest of Montecito) and offer to pay the city of Santa Barbara for anything that belongs to them.
Using the Portland, Maine case as precedent, one could define “overwhelming” as a 75% majority in favor.
Coast Village Road would thereafter withhold various tax revenues that normally go to the city of Santa Barbara and utilize these funds for upgrading sidewalks, landscape improvements and street lighting, in addition to having a major say in planning issues, currently the city’s domain.
Rather than cede to majority rule, the city may sue over withheld taxes. Courts would then interpret and adjudicate laws and, years on, the Supreme Court of California would issue a decision.
More likely, the city of Santa Barbara would negotiate a ceding — as did Portland, Maine — rather than absorb the huge expense of multiyear litigation.
Robert Eringer is a longtime Montecito author with vast experience in investigative journalism. He welcomes questions or comments at email@example.com.