WHEN YOU TORE into this column with your typical voracity last week, reader, you got a pretty good preview of events to come.
You’ll recall I wrote about looming squabbles of Mayor Ted Wheeler’s first budget, and settled on three—Wheeler’s proposed homelessness spending, his $600 million plan for infrastructure projects, and a new public elections program—that seemed particularly ripe.
I was mostly right! In the last week, Wheeler has squared off with Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury—in a courteous but tense exchange—over the $25 million he’s budgeting for shelters and other homelessness help. (Kafoury thinks it should be more.)
He’s also heard concerns from Commissioner Nick Fish about that massive infrastructure proposal, which the commissioner notes hasn’t seen any meaningful discussion before council.
And it appears he’ll allocate $250,000 to the Open and Accountable Elections program slated to begin in 2019. He’d first suggested putting off payment entirely.
BUT! There is one interesting tidbit I missed completely: People aren’t too happy with how Wheeler wants to spend your pot taxes.
Amid the trauma of the November election, Portlanders approved a 3 percent local sales tax on recreational cannabis. Combined with a 17 percent state markup, that means cannabis users now pay a 20 percent premium to buy within city limits.
There were good reasons to support the tax. City Council had dreamed up all sorts of interesting ideas for how the projected $3 million a year could be used.
For months, Commissioner Amanda Fritz went to community meetings and endorsement interviews, pledging the money for purposes as varied as DUI training for cops, drug treatment, road safety projects, help for minority- and woman-owned small businesses, and “economic opportunity” for communities that have been disproportionately affected by pot prohibition.
Then Wheeler, the police commissioner, opted to put most of the money into the Portland Police Bureau.
The mayor’s budget includes nearly $2.4 million in pot taxes to be spent on the bureau’s Service Coordination Team, which works with addicts, and DUI training.
Another $500,000 would be spent in a “participatory budgeting” process where community members could suggest noble recipients of cash. But that small piece wasn’t enough to win over Fritz or Commissioner Chloe Eudaly.
“Some small businesses have some very big concerns, as do I,” Fritz said at a budget hearing on Tuesday, May 9. She suggested dumping the bulk of money into police would be tantamount to “not doing what we said we were going to do.”
“I would prefer not to be part of another broken promise,” Eudaly added.
This particular kerfuffle doesn’t seem to have a neat solution. Wheeler is counting on the pot money to balance his budget, meaning if Eudaly and Fritz get their way, cuts elsewhere would be necessary. Barring major changes, it appears more than 80 percent of the local pot tax will be headed to the cops next year.
Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it, Portland. (Seriously. You’d be doing a service to our men and women in blue.)