A month or so after warning that Portland's projected budget surplus had dwindled to $6 million and might even fade into nothing—"There is the possibility that there will not be any excess ongoing or one-time resources for FY2014-15," the budget office wrote—the tireless bean-counters at the Portland Building have some good news.
The city's expected surplus has gone back up instead of down. When the forecast for the fiscal year comes out next Wednesday, it'll be something like $9.3 million—with $4.6 million available for new ongoing programs and $4.7 million or one-time needs.
"This is pretty good news," says Mayor Charlie Hales' office, which has been sharing the new data with reporters. "We’re not jumping for the rafters. The increase ($3.3 million) is 1/3 of 1% [of the city's overall discretionary budget]… but still. Good news."
Hales is scheduled to release his first draft of a budget next Wendesday, and that document will rely, necessarily, on the work of the budget office. Commissioners (and Hales) have submitted more than $30 million in funding requests for their bureaus. Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, says discussions over which of those might make the cut—and which won't—are hot and heavy in city hall right now. (Even after Hales issues his draft budget, commissioners will still get to lobby for changes ahead of the mayor's final budget.)
"Now, the funny bit for the last several weeks is: The commissioners have $32 million of requests on the table for that $6 million in additional funds," Haynes writes. "And 32 doesn’t go into 6. Now it’s 9.3, but 32 doesn’t go into 9.3 either. So we’re still looking at whopping add packages that, mostly, won’t get funded. Nothing new there."
That anyone's seeing these numbers this early, whether in the media or city council offices, is a relatively new development. Before last year, the city's budget office was a part of the Office of Management and Finance and overseen directly by the mayor's office. Mayors had historically used their control of the forecasts as a trump card in budget negotiations.
A push by Commissioner Amanda Fritz in late 2012 carved out the separate budget office and made it answerable to the rest of council. Commissioner Dan Saltzman, meanwhile, pushed an ordinance calling for regular and public release of annual forecasts.
Portland's good news puts it just ahead of Multnomah County this year. Interim County Chair Marissa Madrigal has submitted a budget with some $8.3 million in new revenue, according to the Oregonian.