City of Portland

 Property Tax

In November of 2002, Portland voters approved a five-year property tax levy called the Portland Children’s Levy (PCL) that prepares vulnerable children for success in school and in life. For 15 years, PCL has supported programs that prevent child abuse and neglect, build mentor relationships for children, and provide safe and constructive before and after-school programs. PCL was approved by 83% of voters in May 2018 for another five years. These funds will help reach thousands of children and families through 74 programs supported by $17.8 million annually.

Children Birth to 17 Years of Age


Children Living in Poverty


Voters Approving PCL Renewal

Programs Supported


Voter Age Gap

The initial polling results showed a large gap in support from voters over the age of 50. Because of this, the levy was placed on the November ballot when younger voters are more likely to turnout. The PCL campaign also targeted their message to the older voters by emphasizing the cap on administrative costs and investment in proven programs that would save money in the long run.


As a city ballot measure, the levy administration was housed within city government. The ballot language required the creation of an oversight committee, but it did not specify the composition of that committee. Working with county government and the Portland Business Alliance, the City agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding with Multnomah County to create a five-person allocation committee consisting of a City-elected official, a County-elected official, a member of the Portland Business Alliance, and two citizen members appointed by the City Council and County Commission respectively. The committee’s funding decisions must be approved by the City Council. Initially the County was also required to approve the funding decisions, but this requirement ceased after the first levy ended.

Economic Downturn

In 2012, the PCL was not able to generate adequate revenue from property taxes and had to trim $3.7 million in funding from their grants mid-year. Grant reductions ranged from three to 40 percent, and some grants were discontinued entirely. However, PCL’s revenue has since returned with the economic upturn, generating $17.8 in funding in 2017 alone.

Getting to Action

The PCL was spearheaded by Portland Commissioner Dan Saltzman. With the help of hundreds of volunteers conducting phone banks and door-to-door campaigning, as well as endorsements from local business groups, advocacy groups, and religious leaders, the campaign raised nearly $500,000. These funds were used to pay for advertising on television and city bus stop benches. The campaign message focused on promoting the five percent cap on administrative costs in order to prevent wasteful spending and investments in proven programs that would save public dollars down the line.

Feb 2002The Portland City Council passes Ordinance 176251 referring a five-year levy for Children's Investment Fund to be decided by voters at the November municipal election.
Nov 2002Voters narrowly approve Measure 26-33 with 53 percent of the vote to create the Children’s Investment Fund. Investments are earmarked for early childhood, after school programs and mentoring, and child abuse prevention and intervention.
Nov 2008Measure 26-94 to renew the Children’s Investment Fund levy for another five years is approved with 72 percent of the vote. A new investment area is added: helping children in foster care succeed.
June-Sept. 2013The Levy Allocation Committee adopts a Community Input Plan to inform the levy’s funding priorities for the next five years. Levy staff engaged the community through brief surveys and meetings with stakeholders and the public.
May 2018Levy is renewed by 83% of voters for another five years, reaching thousands of children and families through 74 programs supported with an annual budget of $17.8 million.  


For 15 years PCL has been funding proven programs that prepare vulnerable children for success in school and in life. PCL also continues working towards reducing racial and ethnic disparities in educational outcomes. During the 2015-2016 fiscal year, PCL served 13,802 children in the hunger relief program area in addition to the 10,571 children served across the other five program areas. The majority of the children served were from homes with family incomes at or below 185% of the federal poverty level.

Additionally, 70.1 percent of children served identified as children of color, and 31.8 percent were from homes in which the primary language spoken was not English. Grantee reports suggest that programs met most outcome goals and that children and families specifically reached goals related to preparing them for success in and out of school. For example during fiscal year 2015-2016:

  • 82.1% of children met age appropriate developmental milestones
  • 91.2% of children were up to date on immunizations
  • 95.8% of parents/caregivers demonstrated or improved positive parenting skills

Keys to Success

Endorsements from local businesses, advocacy groups, and religious leaders

Targeted campaign message to address concerns of skeptical voters

Time-limited levy: must be renewed by voters every five years

The measure is paid for and the revenue source is broad-based (all property owners are taxed)

City and county government collaboration

Extensive public input process and local data collection used to inform funding goals

Transparent grant process: volunteers from the community review and score grant applications to help the allocation committee make their funding recommendations

Established accountability metrics are in place to monitor progress by grantees and the PCL as a whole