A Portland City Council vote to pass the city's annual budget failed Thursday, after Commissioner Chloe Eudaly declined to approve the proposed $5.6 billion package. The vote required unanimous council support.
The processes called for some legislative gymnastics to move forward. After seeing that the budget didn't have Eudaly's support, Mayor Ted Wheeler also cast a "no" vote—but only as a procedural requirement. Only dissenting voters had the ability to propose a do-over on the budget vote, which Wheeler did. City Council is expected to vote on on the budget again next week, during its Wednesday or Thursday council session. Unlike this week's vote, that second vote is marked "non-emergency," meaning that it can still pass if only three out of four commissioners vote in favor.
On Thursday, Eudaly said she wouldn't support a budget that didn't reflect the public's call for a greatly diminished Portland Police Bureau (PPB) budget.
"This moment demands bold action," said Eudaly, addressing the public during the virtual council meeting. "I knew coming into this meeting that we weren’t going to truly rise to that challenge. You deserve better, we all deserve better."
This year's budget comes after two major revisions: One caused by an unexpected $75 million revenue gap due to COVID-19, the other caused by the public's demands for sweeping police reforms following the death of George Floyd.
Because of COVID-19 cuts, each city bureau was already facing a mandatory 5.6 percent budget cut. PPB was forced to cut $12 million off their original $256.6 million budget. And last-minute budget amendments proposed Thursday by city commissioners cut an additional $15 million in police bureau funding. As of now, PPB's budget is slated to shrink about 3 percent from last year's budget, with a total $27 million in cuts.
This number is far from the $50 million in cuts requested by the majority of Portlanders who testified before City Commissioners Wednesday and Thursday.
"Let’s go big," said Jessica Atwater, a member of the public who testified Wednesday. "Portland likes to be different. Let’s have the courage to face the fear of uncertainty that comes with enormous systemic change."
Many of the nearly 750 Portlanders who signed up to testify on the budget asked for the eventual disbanding of the police bureau, echoing calls heard by communities across the country.
“We should not be trying to just reduce the number of people murdered by the police," said Kate Hall, a representative of the group Care Not Cops. "We need to eliminate those murderers altogether. The only way forward is defunding and disbanding the police bureau."
Council's proposed $15 million in police budget cuts comes, in part, from dissolving three major PPB programs. One is the Gun Violence Reduction Team (GVRT), a program known for disproportionally targeting Black Portlanders, another is the School Resource Officer (SRO) program, and the third is PPB's transit police program. It also comes from cutting eight jobs, or $1 million dollars, from PPB's Special Emergency Reaction Team (SERT) and relocating $2.3 million in cannabis tax dollars from PPB and towards restorative justice grants and criminal record expungement for Portlanders historically impacted by racist policing.
The majority of these cuts were introduced by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who has been pushing to reduce the PPB since she joined City Council in 2019.
Hardesty said that such a significant reduction in PPB's overall budget wouldn't have been possible without the community "taking it to the streets" in the form of demonstrations against police brutality. Hardesty only proposed the bulk of the PPB budget cuts after the death of George Floyd spurred nightly protests in downtown Portland.
"You have given us a mandate to make radical changes happen," said Hardesty.
Yet Hardesty, Wheeler, and Commissioner Amanda Fritz declined a chance to go further to reduce the police budget. None of them backed an amendment proposed by Eudaly that would have eliminated 50 vacant PPB officer positions, effectively reducing the PPB budget by an additional $4.6 million. PPB currently has 1,001 positions and 77 vacancies.
Eudaly said she was disappointed by her colleagues' inability to take a "bold stand to refund and reshape" the police bureau.
"While I do support the amendments today, these are largely efforts community advocates have been asking for for years," said Eudaly, shortly before casting her dissenting vote. "They are low-hanging fruit and I don't believe they go far enough. Portlanders are demanding a 50 million cut."
According to Hardesty's staff, the vacancies Eudaly proposed were already eliminated by Hardesty's proposed amendments. In a statement shared on Twitter after Thursday's meeting, Hardesty characterized Eudaly's actions as "performative allyship."
"While my colleague can take a principled 'no' stance on passing this budget, I as a Black woman cannot," wrote Hardesty. "I have spent countless hours moving my colleagues to support what I’ve proposed. ...This 'no' vote does nothing to materially support our BIPOC communities. All this does is delay the much-needed relief for our communities and continues to allow these units to exist for that much longer."
During the budget meeting, Eudaly's fellow commissioners also declined to support her amendment to use police budget dollars to maintain staffing levels in PPB's Traffic Division, which oversees traffic enforcement.
PPB's Traffic Division is currently funded by Cannabis Tax dollars. Eudaly and others voted to move those funds, meant to support people impacted by low-level marijuana arrests, outside of a police bureau. But Eudaly, who serves as the Transportation Commissioner, was worried that would be the end to the Traffic Division, a program that she says is critical to decreasing the city's high number of traffic deaths.
So, Eudaly proposed an amendment mandating that the Traffic Division's lost funding would be specifically replaced by police budget dollars earmarked for purchasing weapons. Over the past two weeks, Eudaly has pressed Wheeler to stop allowing PPB to crowd control weapons against Portland demonstrations.
Eudaly appeared visibly shaken by her colleagues' lack of support.
"That division has already been decimated," said Eudaly. "It is grossly under-resourced and understaffed. And I can’t take money away from it if we’re unable to find those resources today."
The proposed budget includes a few other amendments not related to PPB. Fritz proposed an additional $150,000 to fund a tribal liaison position in the Office of Government Relations and $123,985 to fund the city's Civil Rights Title VI program in the city's Office of Equity and Human Rights. Yet, the majority of proposals center on police reform.
In her closing statements, Hardesty said that reform doesn't end with the budget. She mentioned plans to rework PPB's training process to allow members of the public to attend and to strengthen the city's police oversight programs.
"I look forward to working with officers who are... committed to making sure that they are treating each and every one of our community members with the respect and dignity they deserve," said Hardesty.