Hall Monitor 

Hales Has a Magic Hat, Too

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SO, MAYBE THERE'S a little bit of Sam Adams in Charlie Hales, after all. But only a little bit.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, May 21, at practically the 11th hour for Portland's budget process (and disturbingly close to my deadline), Mayor Charlie Hales convened a "scrum" of reporters and unveiled a modest list of restorations and adjustments in his proposed budget. The changes amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. And they're somewhat unexpected—a product of the eye-popping amounts of new money Hales' staff has freed up or lucked into.

But far more importantly, the changes also appear to be worth an untold amount in political goodwill. They are good news for commissioners who raised complaints earlier this month. They are better news for constituent groups who otherwise would lobby city commissioners to take up their cause and show up at city budget hearings with plaintive demands.

Consider what Hales is putting forward in the revised budget he's sending to the Portland City Council on Friday, May 24:

A smaller mounted patrol unit will remain in place, thanks to cuts in places like the police bureau's property crimes unit. (And also a $400,000, two-year commitment—and free hay!—from volunteers.) Buckman Pool in Southeast will live not just until next summer, but until at least 2015. Thank unused parks-levy money. Parks maintenance will receive new funding after years of cuts. Human trafficking and youth shelter programs, seemingly forgotten, will be partially funded.

The city is taking advantage of unexpected pots of money, but also from things like extra savings in pension costs and planned pay raises—and a favorable verdict in a lawsuit challenging last year's landline tax increase.

Ladling out that kind of good news at the last minute—scaring up enough miracles to quiet citizens and keep city council mutinies behind the scenes—was perhaps Adams' best gift as a diviner of budgets. And Hales has proved himself about as skilled when it comes to sagely divvying up bonus cash—a maneuver some thought Adams used more for dramatic effect than not.

As for whether Hales has done the same?

"I understand the perception," Hales says. "I'll take the hits if people think that's what we've done. We've still filled a $21.5 million hole. We've tried to be thoughtful and good listeners about what remains. I'm content with where we ended up."

He makes a point. His restorations are sustainable. They're true to his "honest budgeting" mantra. And not everyone got good news.

Unlike under Adams and his political BFF, retired Commissioner Randy Leonard, Hales has continued to take a hard line against the public safety bureaus and unions that Adams and Leonard (a former fire union president) assiduously worked to protect.

Hales could have used some of the city's new revenue to save cops and firefighters. He did not. Layoff numbers will remain the same. Maybe he was remembering that neither union initially backed his campaign. Or maybe he was looking at low public marks (for the cops in particular) and figured he had a window to act.

That's decidedly un-Adams. Granted, Hales could be banking some goodwill before veering toward business interests on issues like sit-lie or West Hayden Island. Or maybe, when it comes to cutting cops or anything, it's as simple as Hales says it is:

"Public hearings matter."

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