MAYOR CHARLIE HALES, deep into a media scrum over his proposed city budget on Thursday, May 1, trotted out an impossibly folksy line when asked about the disappointments he'd be handing to interest groups all competing for a limited amount of surplus money.
"We couldn't fit 32 pounds of potatoes into a nine-pound bag," Hales said, as we imagined him chewing on a piece of hay.
The mayor was glibly addressing something that had been obvious for months. With $32 million in budget requests all vying for a surplus of just $9.3 million (soon to be $11.3 million, thanks to some urban renewal magic by Hales), someone's feelings were bound to get hurt after the hard decisions were made.
Hales put money into housing and homelessness programs. He found funding for earthquake preparedness. He scraped together cash for students' bus passes and immigrant workers. Doing all that meant someone else had to lose.
Maybe. But for all that talk of difficult math, some of those losers still seemed to be victims of politics as much as anything else. Here's a short list of those who lost.
SCRAPS FOR PUBLIC SAFETY: A year after cutting the fire and police bureaus—a sharp turn from his predecessors, who protected the city's public safety agencies—Hales was still pretty tight. He gave the cops money only for a new "equity" position. And he gave the firefighters even less: zero.
That was way less than the $2.6 million-plus the fire bureau sought. The bureau wants to restore some 26 positions cut last year that were temporarily saved by an expiring grant. People noticed. Like the president of the Portland Fire Fighters Association, a group Hales sparred with during his mayoral run.
"The zero percent really makes me wonder where the priorities of city hall are on emergency responsiveness and the fire bureau," says Alan Ferschweiler.
CUTTING OFF THE ARTS: The Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) had been a darling of the Sam Adams administration, and that's not always been a good thing to be in the Hales administration.
RACC sought two appropriations from this year's surplus—and got neither.
"We are disappointed that RACC's requested increase was not included," says Jeff Hawthorne, RACC's community affairs director.
But that's not what stings.
The city's contract with RACC requires annual pay increases, based on whichever mechanism produces the bigger bump: inflation or hotel tax revenues. Sources say Hales' office nonetheless has tried going with the cheaper one this year—inflation.
SNUBBING THE PBA: Mayors and transportation directors have chafed for years under an expensive deal with the Portland Business Alliance. To end a fight over higher rates at city parking garages, Portland agreed to spend nearly $1 million a year to prop up something called the Downtown Marketing Initiative. A couple years ago, the PBA wrote a very angry letter at the mere hint the money was at risk.
This time, though, Hales has yanked the subsidy. And so far, the PBA's been quiet. Does that mean they're getting something else in return? Hopefully not. But we'll see.