Portland ranked among cities with the highest taxes in the country

These national rankings and “best of” lists floating around aren’t always flattering.

While my readers know Portland gets more than its share of good publicity from national publications and websites — it’s been named one of best places in America to raise a family, find a second career, live healthy, find good beer and many, many other things — every now and then it takes one on the chin.

Portland got dinged a while back by Travel + Leisure readers for having, as they put it, among the worst dressed people in the country.

Part of the Portland skyline. (BDN photo by Troy R. Bennett)

Part of the Portland skyline. (BDN photo by Troy R. Bennett)

This time the criticism is a little less superficial. The financial news organization 24/7 Wall St. released its annual report on the country’s cities with the highest and lowest tax burdens, and Maine’s largest city finds itself among America’s highest taxing bergs.

Portland is No. 7 on the list of cities with the highest taxes, sandwiched between No. 6 Providence and No. 8 Louisville.

Interestingly, it seems Portland finds itself on the list primarily for how much in taxes the wealthy pay. According to 24/7 Wall St., state and local taxes paid by a family earning $150,000 in the Forest City are, on average, $22,463 per year, the fifth highest amount in the country for high earners.

On the flipside, a family bringing in $25,000 annually only pays $2,788 per year in taxes in Portland, a number good for 12th lowest in America.

Here’s what 24/7 Wall St. wrote about Portland in its report roundup:

Taxes in Portland are actually quite favorable to lower-income residents. A family of three earning $25,000 had no income tax burden and paid just $568 in the state sales taxes. At the other end of the spectrum, however, wealthier families faced especially high tax burdens. A hypothetical family earning $150,000 spent $22,463, or 15 [percent], of their income on state and local taxes. In 2011, Gov. Paul LePage lowered the state’s’ highest income tax rate and eliminated state income taxes for many low-income Mainers. Maine indexes both its tax brackets and tax exemption for inflation in order to account for price changes. However, higher than average property and gas tax burdens drive up tax burdens for Portland residents. Despite the recent tax reforms, the tax burdens of Portland residents remained relatively high due to high tax burdens on real estate and cars.

As you can see, some of this high tax burden comes from the state level, and on the local level, it stands to reason that people who own extremely valuable properties pay higher property taxes than those who are homeless or barely making ends meet.

Still, reports like this contribute to the somewhat still widely held perception of Portland and Maine as heavy tax locations, and not entirely unfairly.

Interestingly, here doesn’t seem to be any correlation between tax burdens and unemployment rates among the cities listed by 24/7 Wall St.

Portland has a relatively low 5.9 percent unemployment rate, suggesting that despite the additional tax costs, people continue to live here and hire here.

Other cities on the “high tax” list have unemployment rates ranging from 6.1 percent in Columbus, Ohio, to 10.5 percent in Detroit. The cities with low tax burdens are similarly all over the place. A couple are crazy low, like Billings, Mt., and Sioux Falls, S.D., each with lower than 4.5 percent, but then there’s Las Vegas, the second lowest taxing city in the country, with an unemployment rate of 11.2 percent.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.