FORGET ABOUT the horsies.
Sure, Mayor Ted Wheeler’s inaugural city budget, unveiled Monday, slashed funding for the cops’ much-fought-for Mounted Patrol Unit. And sure, that’s going to lead to grousing as the budget marches toward final passage. Who knows? The horse cops might even avoid demise (again) before all is said and done.
But for my money, there are more compelling sticking points in the largely uncontroversial $515.6 million spending plan Wheeler laid out this week. Let’s take a look.
As previously discussed in this column, Wheeler has got a bold vision for dumping unprecedented money into Portland’s crumbling infrastructure.
By tapping property tax money that’ll soon be released from expiring “urban renewal areas,” Wheeler says the city can pour $600 million into fixing roads, bridges, parks, and more in the next 20 years, without raising taxes. He’s calling it “Build Portland.”
But Wheeler might find some resistance to his plan.
That’s because the urban renewal money that will be coming back to city coffers has been used to fund the bulk of Portland’s affordable housing initiatives. Currently 45 percent of urban renewal money goes to housing.
The city won’t see all of that when the cash begins flowing back—other governments get some, too—but Wheeler’s plan raises an obvious question: Are we simply going to turn the money away from housing?
As former transportation Commissioner Steve Novick told me: “It would never have occurred to me to suggest what Wheeler is suggesting, because I couldn’t imagine transportation winning a big fight with housing.”
That’s why a “budget note” Wheeler’s proposing could draw flak. It would direct budget staff to assume that the city will bond for infrastructure every five years or so. Commissioners may want to derail those assumptions.
Money for Homelessness
The budget, Wheeler was keen to point out, invests $25 million in the county’s Joint Office of Homeless Services—the same amount Multnomah County is putting in.
If that seems simple, the complex interplay between the two governments makes it anything but. There is ire in the county building that Wheeler didn’t raise the city’s investment in homelessness by millions this year, as the county did.
County documents suggest Wheeler’s decision will jeopardize shelter beds and other services. Will the mayor stand his ground or concede more cash is needed?
Open and Accountable Elections
Remember the public campaign financing system Commissioner Amanda Fritz won passage for in 2016?
It doesn’t begin until 2019, but was supposed to be funded by $1.2 million this year. Wheeler is instead pressing to use that money elsewhere. That surprised Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s office, which would likely be tasked with setting the system up. And it raises questions about whether Wheeler—a skeptic of the program—wants to shepherd it going forward.
Fritz’s office didn’t return our inquiries on this, but Eudaly’s folks are showing concern. Don’t be surprised if this comes up as council moves toward a final budget.