But Not by as Many Units as You'd Think
Amanda Fritz, as I reported earlier this afternoon, dropped jaws and raised eyebrows in city hall by voting no on Mayor Charlie Hales' budget (the first 4-1 budget that even someone as long-tenured as Dan Saltzman said he could remember) and delivering a notably long and pointed speech aimed at Hales and her other fellow commissioners.
From that post:
Fritz definitively voted down a difficult city budget supported by the rest of her colleagues—delivering a blunt speech that mentioned her status as the council's only woman, celebrated her 60 percent re-election majority last fall, accused her colleagues of shutting her out of deliberations, and firmly lumped in safety net and environmental programs as "basic" services just as vital as roads and utilities and cops.
The speech—coming just before Mayor Charlie Hales gave his own remarks declaring victory with a budget that closed a $21.5 million spending gap, notably by cutting the police and fire bureaus—rocked observers in city hall. It also drew applause from a smattering of citizens who'd showed up to speak on the proceedings.
"I cannot visit a shelter for children escaping prostitution," and look victims in the eye, she said, "if I vote to cut funding for their treatment."
Fritz, at the request of reporters, including myself, has agreed to share something that's as close to her full remarks as possible—adding her verbal freelancing on the dais today to the draft she wrote this week. Which means you don't have to take our word for what she said. Read it yourself. The whole thing is below the cut.
The Mayor’s Proposed Budget includes many choices that I commend and support. Some of the most positive services funded include:
• Full funding for the Portland Housing Bureau’s Safety Net: Homelessness and houselessness are issues that are beyond the City’s ability to eliminate, but this set of programs goes a long way towards helping meet housing and shelter needs in our community. I commend Commissioner Fish, Housing Director Traci Manning, and community partners for making this priority clear.
• Restoration of 2/3 of proposed cuts in the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) including funding for the East Portland Action Plan (EPAP), and graffiti abatement:
ONI is a bureau that promotes connections between neighborhoods, diverse communities, and the City Government. As a small bureau it cannot endure the cuts that larger bureaus survive on an ongoing basis, and this year’s cuts took it beyond its capacity to rebound and support vital community programs. This restoration of 2/3 of the funds helps the survival of ONI and our community partners. It is not enough, but the partial restoration of funding will help. Let’s be very clear: ONI is an infrastructure bureau. It supports the most vital infrastructure in Portland: community engagement. Director Amalia Alarcon de Morris and her outstanding staff exemplify doing more with less, aided by over 3,000 volunteers who are the true core of our community engagement system,
• Other positives in the Mayor’s proposed budget: Funding for all the SUN schools, and for Buckman Pool and the Sellwood Community Center. Community facilities and SUN schools serve a vital role in our community, way beyond the simple budgetary equation of value for dollars spent. The value of community centers and afterschool programs goes deep in the fabric of our neighborhoods, keeping families and individuals secure and whole as productive members of our community.
• Funding for CHIERS and Hooper Detox: This program continues to produce dividends and is a model around the nation. I am grateful these programs were safe, right from the Mayor’s Proposed Budget.
• We continue to invest in Future Connect and SE Works, two programs that have proven success in supporting at-risk youth and first generation college students to navigate away from welfare and incarceration. I appreciate that the Mayor and his staff took the time to learn about these programs, reversing the initial actions to de-fund both. Mayor Sam Adams was a champion for some excellent initiatives. I’m happy that Mayor Hales agrees that Future Connect and SE Works are among the programs that deserve ongoing support.
• Continued support for VOZ : This program serves both workers and employers wanting to ensure a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. I am gratified that this Special Appropriation that I put on the table was funded in the Mayor’s Proposed Budget.
• Ongoing General Fund allocation for the Forest Park ranger and decorative fountains in parks is good. I believe that this is money well spent for maintaining the aesthetics of our downtown water feature amenities, and securing the vast reaches of the largest urban natural park in the nation.
• Restoration of continued funding for the East Portland Action Plan with no set sunset date is good. East Portlanders understand and agree that this funding will eventually end, but more time is needed to activate and continue to harness the tremendous community support that exists in this area of the City. I appreciate the support of Commissioners in removing the clause in the proposed Budget Note ending funding for EPAP after this year. The revised budget note is much more appropriate.
• I appreciate that rates are lower in Solid Waste and Water.
I have been very pleased to see the level of community engagement in the budget process, and the Mayor’s willingness to take and incorporate citizens’ input. I appreciate my colleagues on the Council listening to community input over three long Community Budget events both before and after the Mayor’s Proposed Budget. Thank you to every community member who participated, whether in person, by email, letter or phone call, and even those who stopped me in Fred Meyer at 10:45 p.m. to tell me your views. This has been the toughest budget in terms of cuts that we have encountered in my five years here. Mayor Hales has wedded his new philosophy with a $25 million budget shortfall, now apparently down to $16 million. I appreciate the effort and difficulty of doing that. The Mayor’s attempt to get Bureaus lean for the right reasons, for what the Bureaus are really intended to provide and to get both the County and the City supporting programs more linked to our areas of expertise and responsibility, is a laudable goal.
The difficulty with this approach has been the Mayor and his staff not always knowing the history of a particular program, how it integrates with City and County issues and needs and whether or not it is a basic service or a vital service that if cut will have unsafe or unsustainable impacts. To me, unsustainable means going backward in programs that have historically been underfunded. We are trying to play catch up, yet still cuts have been extracted. This is happening with human trafficking and anti-prostitution services, and to Friends of Trees and stormwater services funded by rates in the Bureau of Environmental Service. Are trees basic services, in the strict sense of stormwater conveyance and sewer system maintenance? Some would say no, trees are not part of that basic service. Prostitution and human trafficking treatment and recovery, are they strictly related to public safety? Maybe no, not a basic service to the Police Bureau. SUN schools are not part of Parks as recreational or parks maintenance services, so no, they are not a basic service either.
But in the larger picture, all of these are basic services that deserve funding. I had hoped that after years of mistakes in government, environmental, public safety and human service policies, we maybe would have finally come to understand that separation into neat compartments and silos is not possible. We operate as a system as it pertains to stormwater and trees, to public safety and domestic violence and prostitution, to keeping our kids in schools, and to the long term resilience of our community. We cannot separate each into its own area without creating holes that can have grave impacts on the environment and people’s lives. We cannot and should not say, “this is a City function” or “this is a County function”. Vital services that people depend on are community functions. People in Portland don’t care which agency funds vital services. Partnerships are stronger than silos, and work better. Providing services should be considered an honor in which we work with the County.
Some have said that this is one of the best budgets that have occurred in some time in the City, as it tries to get government in the business of providing only basic services. But basic services must be defined on a system-wide scale. I am the author of the phrase, “spending taxpayers’ money wisely to provide basic services”. I was elected on that promise in 2008, and because I lived it for four years, I was re-elected to continue pursuing that goal by 60% of the electorate in 2012. If government is finding holes in the social and environmental fabric of our community which the private and nonprofit sectors cannot fill, then filling those holes becomes a basic service that all governments must work together to fund.
From my perspective, this has been a less collaborative Budget process than any of the past four years. Services that I consider highest priority for City funding have been dismissed as either not important, or someone else’s responsibility. Until today, the five members of the Council have not met as a “board of directors” to discuss the information we heard in the Budget worksessions, or to set shared priorities. There wasn’t even one work session to air each Council member’s concerns. Since the release of the Mayor’s Proposed Budget, over half a million dollars of new money has appeared, yet there was no discussion about how to allocate this new money.
Funding for five officers and three support staff for the Mounted Patrol was announced without asking Council members’ opinions about priorities in the Portland Police Bureau. My priority for restored positions in PPB is the four of 18 officers being cut from Family Services, which addresses domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse. That’s 22% of resources in the Police Bureau that was dedicated to investigation of domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse now cut in the budget the Council is about to adopt. For sure, horses and the Mounted Patrol have many virtues. People die from domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse.
Funding the Mounted Patrol instead of officers investigating abuse of women, children and elders is troubling. But even more so is the 24% cut to services for women and children escaping human trafficking. This budget today cuts $117,000 in support for shelters providing safe treatment for these most vulnerable members of our community. Some have said that shelter and treatment for women and children survivors of human trafficking should be a County function. Healing the scars of prostitution, getting women on the right track to being productive members of society, and preventing the damaging and long term impacts to society and the police of child abuse and human trafficking, is a City, County, State and Federal problem.
This is not something we can kick down the road anymore. We have been doing that for far too long. It is a City function to help victims escape the mental and physical misery in which they are enslaved, since our current level of law enforcement cannot stop men from paying for sex with children and enslaved women. Already, our current funding level in this fiscal year is like applying a band-aid to a ruptured aorta with uncontrolled bleeding. Either we allocate more resources to stop domestic violence and child abuse, or we must pay for the consequences of failing to do so. This budget cuts at both ends.
I cannot visit the shelter for children escaping from prostitution, and look them in the eyes if I vote to cut funding for their safe shelter and treatment. I am discouraged that the only woman on the Council is the only member who finds this cut unconscionable.
There are other cuts I find troubling, and other places I would have advocated for funding, if I’d been asked. I wasn’t asked about adding another $500,000 to Parks budget, I wasn’t asked about cutting the Office of Healthy Working Rivers before the cut was proposed, and there has never been a thoughtful discussion about the reasons why, with the whole Council acting as a board of directors. The Council created the Office of Healthy Working Rivers. Eliminating it by de-funding it avoids discussion of the challenges it was created to address. Those challenges remain.
Programs that are essential to supporting and enhancing our basic services are being de-funded, while General Fund dollars are being moved to support tree programs, Mounted Patrol, and additional parks personnel that could be better spent funding essential programs combating prostitution, domestic violence against women and children, and human trafficking. The Mayor has put a million dollars into an Innovation Fund which we know virtually nothing about, and yet the Council is de-funding successful programs that really do work on filling the holes in our system of government.
Cutting $200,000 from the Friends of Trees contract is not necessary. Cutting $20,000 from SOLVE is not necessary. Funding stormwater management programs with scarce General Fund programs is not necessary. Cutting $50,000 from the Hillsdale and Alberta Main Streets is not necessary.
The City has become a good partner to environmental groups in the community over the past four years. As Bob Sallinger of the Portland Audubon Society said, this budget may set us back 20 years. I have been a community organizer in Portland, and now City Council member, since 1991. It hurts me deeply and personally to see the direction in this budget regarding green infrastructure in the Bureau of Environmental Services which begins a reverse of the gains made over those 22 years. This is my community, and it’s my responsibility to make it better.
There are many good things in this budget. The Mayor and his new staff had a huge task before them, with the 25 million dollar shortfall to cover. The City Budget Office has been immensely helpful, and I am very proud of my work with Commissioners Fish and Saltzman last year, establishing this Office as a separate bureau accountable to all members of Council. Still, I am disappointed that pieces of the budget that would have been so easy to fix, remain unfunded. I am disappointed about cuts in the Alberta and Hillsdale Main Street programs, lack of funding for staff support for the Multnomah Youth Commission, lack of funding for Utility analysts in the City Budget Office, and the continued absence of a Special Appropriation to implement the Earned Sick Leave ordinance.
I worry we will be battling again over funding SUN schools, aging and disability services, Buckman Pool, and other valued community services next year. The fact is, when General Fund money became available due to the Lawsuit settlement, when rate dollars could have been used appropriately to fully fund true environmental programs, and when money could easily have been used to fully restore cuts to services for vulnerable women and children, the money was diverted elsewhere or left unallocated. As we continue to climb out of the recession, I believe available funding should be used to provide services and jobs.
I don’t usually make such a long and in-depth speech. I was re-elected to speak the truth as I see it, every day, and I plan to continue to do exactly that. Some would say that the dollar amount of my issues in numbers, compared to the whole budget is small. Some say that something is better than nothing. When we are talking about vital basic services, something is not enough. We should prioritize services and needs so that vulnerable people struggling to survive are more important than things like additional maintenance in parks. Yes, $117,000 out of a budget in the hundreds of millions is a small amount. So it is particularly disappointing that it is not funded.
I cannot vote in favor of cutting 24% from the budget for Janus Youth and Lifeworks NW New Options for Women when we clearly have the resources. I appreciate all the work that has gone into this budget especially those on the Mayors and Budget Office staff, however because of the cuts in services to survivors of human trafficking, I am sad that I must vote NO.