Never has an interview made me want to buy a gun until I talked on Monday with county Department of Human Services spokesman Dave Austin about the incredibly dire budget cuts facing Portland. The city is cutting $8.8 million and the county, squeezed by falling tax revenue, increasing unemployment and an assumed state budget gap of $3 billion, is cutting its departments 12 percent across the board. Austin explained that the county's projected budget, with "no fat left to cut" after eight straight years of budget cuts, is being forced to slice some of Multnomah's limited but completely crucial mental health and addiction services, as well as jail beds and early intervention programs.
There will be more details about the cuts in this week's paper, but in case the thought of mentally ill addicts wandering the streets with no place to turn for treatment doesn't pull your heartstrings, here's another tidbit from the budget chopping block: the county animal shelter plans to reduce its open hours from six days a week to four. With this change, they say, "The number of animals adopted or reclaimed by their owners is projected to fall by 10 - 25% and euthanasia numbers are projected to increase."
That's right, the county's budget cuts will directly correlate to an increase in dead kittens.
These cuts are all PROJECTED, though. County chair Ted Wheeler releases the actual budget in April, commissioners debate it for a month and then approve in June. If the county or state figures out a way to raise some revenue before then, some of the cuts can be patched up.
It's politically unpopular to push for new taxes, however, so I was surprised when County Commissioner Jeff Cogen called today to say he would push for an tax increase on rental cars. The tax, which Cogen will officially announce April 9th, would boost the current tax on rental car transactions from 12.5 percent to 17 percent. He hopes the increase would raise $5-6 million a year for the county but the tax is already facing some opposition to the idea from people in the travel and tourism industries. "We like to think of ourselves as a progressive, caring people in Multnomah County. But during the good times, we cut the budget. During the bad times, we eviscerate it," says Cogen. "We need this money to save our community."