A Sober Budget Plan for Pandemic-Stricken Portland
Just a few months ago, the city of Portland’s budget forecast was looking—dare we say it?—rosy.
For the first time in what felt like eons, the proposed budget for the next fiscal year included no cuts. In fact, the city was planning the best way to spend nearly $28.5 million in expected new revenue.
That was then. This is now.
On Thursday, Mayor Ted Wheeler outlined a far different proposed budget, one with a full $75 million less for fiscal year 2020 than the current year, thanks to dramatic forecasted drops in tourism, business licensing fees, and property taxes.
The bulk of that $75 million gap was closed by eliminating plans to spend that $28.5 million, as well as tapping $30.8 from city reserves, set-asides and unspent funds from the current year.
An additional $16.4 million would come from furloughs, cost-of-living pay freezes, and other cost-cutting measures designed to avoid lay-offs for as long as possible, Wheeler said. Those measures are already in effect for non-union employees. Similar asks are under negotiation with union leadership, talks which Wheeler says are proceeding well.
“Some structures that existed before need to be challenged,” Wheeler said. “There are deep inequities in our society, and it is has only been exacerbated by COVID-19.”
Finally, city bureaus and programs are being asked to absorb an across-the-board 5.6 percent cut, to close the rest of the gap.
Here’s a look at some of the winners and losers in the overall budget proposal. Want to weigh in? The city council is holding a virtual public hearing on the proposed budget next Tuesday; sign up here to comment.
The Joint Office of Homeless Services, which is funded by the city, the county and metro, and would be unharmed under Wheeler’s proposal.
VOZ Workers' Rights Education Project, the Gateway Center for Domestic Violence, and the Office of Youth Violence Prevention are protected from any cuts (especially relevant given reports of spikes in domestic violence and hate crimes during the past two months of lockdown).
Profits from the city's 3 percent tax on local cannabis sales will go to small business relief, with an emphasis on those owned by people of color.
The Portland Rose Festival, which under guidelines released by Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday likely won’t be able to throw its signature parades or waterfront carnival this year, got a special one-time $50,000 allocation for the 2021 event.
The 1,000-plus people that Portland Parks and Recreation employs to stage summer programming, all of whom are out of a job this summer thanks to restrictions on large gatherings. (The parks department, which relies on fees for much of its budget, has been hit particularly hard by the shutdowns.)
It’s a tough time to be in management at the city. Any non-union employee who makes over $61,000 a year will need to go at least five days off without pay between now and early October.
Anyone who was still holding out hope that money from the federal government would fix everything. Though Portland received $114 million from the federal CARES act, that money is earmarked for direct COVID-19 response relief, city budget officials said, and not for ongoing programs. It may sound like a lot, says City Budget Director Jessica Kinard, but that money will be spread across the entire city, with needs on every block.