Almost three months after Mayor Charlie Hales proposed a budget that cut nearly $1 million for one of the Portland Business Alliance's cherished programs, the Downtown Marketing Initiative, the mayor this morning tried to get his colleagues to go along with a (fractional) change of heart.
He's getting his wish, pushing through a small restoration of that cash for holiday-season marketing. Just not this week. Commissioner Amanda Fritz balked at the $170,000 request from the council's contingency fund—forcing the city council to strip away an emergency clause that would have allowed Hales' gift to the PBA to take effect immediately.
"I can't support this," Fritz said plainly, explaining that the about-face from the council's budget vote in June was too much to take. "I really support the Downtown Marketing Initiative. It's a wonderful program. But we made a decision in this budget that we wouldn't fund it with general fund money."
Her comments came after a slightly awkward bit of testimony from the PBA, in which they begged for a full restoration next year and went point by point through the budget cuts that they say have hobbled the DMI: Online comments unmoderated and then closed, scrapping an "ugly sweater" contest, not being able to hire stylists, ditching TV and print ads. Other councils had contemplated cutting the DMI, sources have told me, but the PBA always pushed back before that kind of talk got too serious.
(The DMI initiative, for the record, followed a soaring presentation by Travel Portland that saw officials gush over staggering and record year-by-year increases in hotel taxes and tourism revenue—an effort funded through a business assessment. So it's not exactly as if downtown's image is hurting.)
Hales didn't seem to enjoy the implication that he was carelessly forking over money after having previously drawn a line in the sand. He said there's more money flowing into the city's contingency fund than the budget that took effect July 1 initially forecast. And that there's nothing wrong with using it for immediate funding changes.
"That's why it's a contingency fund," the mayor told Fritz. "It's prudent to add back a portion of this money."
"If I was going vote to spend $170,000 today," Fritz had told the mayor before he spoke, "I'd vote for a crossing improvement in East Portland, which is another project we decided we couldn't fund in the budget.... I want us to be very careful. We don't have enough to pay for everything we need in parks and housing and transportation."