For the past two weeks, city council has been embroiled in budget hearings like a five-headed municipal Santa Claus, poring over the list of who's been naughty and who's been nice.
Unlike all the meager years past, though, when most bureaus were handed sacks of coal, the city actually has some money this year, making the outlook for everyone much more cheery. But, surprisingly, the bounty of booty hasn't decreased the number of conflicts and competition over city money.
"I think it's actually harder when we have more revenue," says Commissioner Randy Leonard. "We're having to look at whose budgets have been cut in the past, and then bring them back up." And that means pretty much every city bureau.
In other words, it's a lot like winning the lottery. You want to help out all those formerly estranged family members and acquaintances who've come looking for a handout, but before you know it, the money's run out and you're back to turning tricks on Sandy for scraps of day-old bread. Is that how you want the city to end up? Ragged and strung out, or dead in the parking lot of a pay-by-the-hour motel?
I didn't think so, which is why the mayor and commissioners are taking multiple swipes at the budget to make sure nobody gets a free ride. They're currently analyzing every city budget as a team; whatever budgets still need work (prediction: pretty much all of them) will go out to budget committees, in which the four commissioners are broken into two teams. It's Mayor Tom Potter's version of the buddy system—and it actually works.
Meanwhile! At a "Friday Forum" last week at the Portland City Club, Commissioner Erik Sten took on Portland Development Commission (PDC) Chair Mark Rosenbaum in a battle gratuitously called "The Future of PDC." Sten played nice, refusing to attack the agency, but made the case for more city council oversight of PDC's budget, citing numerous projects (Memorial Coliseum, South Waterfront) where the agency has screwed Portlanders.
Rosenbaum, though, painted PDC in a glowing light—even rewriting history. He ticked off a number of good things the agency has done, like dedicating 30 percent of its budget to affordable housing and paying the prevailing wage for most private/public projects.
But Rosenbaum forgot to mention the part where his agency fought tooth and nail against those changes. They were dragged kicking and screaming by Sten and city council into the 30 percent goal, and were practically sued into an agreement on paying the prevailing wage.
But, as they say, you should never let facts get in the way of a good argument.