In spite of the mayor's cheery optimism and continued spending on research for a major-league ballpark and proposals for an outdoor ice rink--not to mention self-congratulatory salary increases for both the mayor and city council members this past summer--the city is now facing a $2.3 million shortfall. (The one measure of "good" news is that Oregon lifted itself from the worst employment rates in the country to second worst, just ahead of Alaska.) To make up for the looming deficit, city council members have been ordered to cut four percent from the budget for each and every city bureau and service. Those cuts could come as soon as the end of this month.
But not all the council members agree that Katz's across-the-board cuts make sense, and this resistance is laying the foundation for turf wars in city hall.
"It implies that every service is of equal importance," stated council member Randy Leonard, "but they are not."
As a former firefighter, Leonard is especially concerned about public safety services.
"Losing even one 911 dispatcher will lengthen the response time (for police and fire)," explained Leonard. "It doesn't do much good to have a fire station in your neighborhood if no one is there to answer the phone."
Last year, when similar across-the-board budget cuts were requested by the mayor, Leonard had only been in office for several weeks and decided to go along with the program. But this year he has decided he will be "more resistant."
"I would even support a salary freeze," he claimed.
To make economic matters here more ominous, the already anemic social services and state-sponsored programs are also bracing for a major pinch. In three weeks, Oregonians will vote on Measure 30. If that initiative fails, nearly a billion dollars will be wiped from the state's budget. Measure 30 is an echo from a tax measure that state voters shot down a year ago. (Measure 28, a self-imposed tax increase measure, failed. However, a few months later, Multnomah County voters approved an income tax increase to help support schools, libraries, and parks.)
In order to sustain state-sponsored services at their current levels, last year the state legislature held a marathon session, finally cobbling together an $800 million tax increase plan. But late this summer, the conservative anti-tax magnate Kevin Mannix gathered enough signatures to force the new tax plan onto a statewide ballot. (Those ballots should be in your mailbox soon. VOTE YES! A "yes" vote defeats Mannix and keeps the legislature's tax plan in place--not to mention maintains funding for schools, healthcare plans, and jails.)
Last year, the Multnomah County sheriff responded to budget cuts by releasing prisoners in order to save money. Meanwhile, Portland Public Schools threatened to cancel sports programs for the spring term. (They were saved by private donations.) If Measure 30 fails, it's estimated that an additional 350 inmates will be released monthly from county jails around the state. No exact impact has been forecasted for public schools, although some have guessed that the school year would be shortened by as much as 19 days.
To voice your opinion on which city services and programs should and should not be cut, attend upcoming budget forums: One will be held on Tuesday, January 20 at NW Neighborhood Cultural Center, 1819 NW Everett, 6-8 pm; another forum will be hosted on Thursday, January 22 at Rose City Park United Methodist, 5730 NE Alameda, 6-8 pm.