Last night, Portland City Council held its final public hearing on Mayor Ted Wheeler's 2018-2019 proposed city budget before it goes to a vote next week. Unsurprisingly, the hearing attracted at least one hundred members of the public who shared concerns about the future of TriMet's YouthPass (a program that gives Portland students free access to TriMet), an increase in Portland police officers, lagging mental health care coverage, and the creation of a green energy business tax (among other issues) before the council dais. The nearly 3-hour hearing was underscored with multiple calls from Wheeler asking security guards to remove disruptive attendees (read: people who were hissing at his support of the police bureau).
The hearing was preceded by a rally in support of YouthPass, a program Wheeler erased from the city budget. While Portland Public Schools announced last week it would foot the city's $967,000 bill to keep YouthPass running another year, people have called out Wheeler for promising to keep funding YouthPass during his 2015 mayoral campaign. Members of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), NAACP, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, and Youth Environmental Justice Alliance (YEJA) gathered in front of city hall, chanting: "Ain't no power like the power of the youth 'cause the power of the youth don't stop!"
During the hearing, members of the DSA demanded that council "tax the rich" to pay for social services (this idea was also backed by city council candidate Julia DeGraw, who had a representative speak for her at the meeting).
He adds that she’s in favor of BRASS tax, which is meant to fund universal free kindergarten, mental health and addiction programs instead of policing. It’s meant to progressively tax the top 10 percent.
— Kelly Kenoyer (@KenoyerKelly) May 11, 2018
Other DSA members, waving "Tax the rich!" signs spoke in support of a ballot initiative to impose a tax on Portland businesses that would fund green energy projects—an initiative backed by city council candidate Jo Ann Hardesty and opposed by Wheeler.
The most tense moment during last night's meeting came during testimony by a woman seeking more policing for her Goose Hollow neighborhood. She said needles and other biohazards littered a tunnel that was her only access to and from her neighborhood, and she asked council to fund more officers so they could help her feel safer. Her voice was nearly drowned out by audience hissing and boos. Audience members called out "they're people!" when she referenced the homeless.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly asked the audience to "please stop with the hissing," and said she was disappointed to see a woman concerned about her safety treated with such disrespect. Wheeler asked security guards to remove the interrupters.
Other concerns raised by the community included funding for community centers, which Wheeler temporarily put on the chopping block. Several community center advocates spoke about the value of their centers and asked council to clarify their murky future.
The council is set to vote on the budget on Wednesday, May 16.