Portland City Council Must Reject the Mayor’s Proposed Budget

Portland DSA members at one of the community budget forums

Mayor Ted Wheeler’s April 30 budget proposal uses Portlanders’ real needs as a bargaining chip with business and grossly misrepresents Portland’s priorities. This budget continues the downward trajectory of austerity: cutting parks and closing community centers, with no substantial investment in education, preschool, mental health services, or jobs programs. We demand a budget that prioritizes the needs of the people to create a city where all can prosper and have their needs met.

The housing crisis devastating Portland was correctly diagnosed as an emergency by the City Council in 2015, and has yet to be resolved. While the mayor is right to allocate funds for temporary relief, he must address the systemic drivers of poverty or he will continue to push the problem down the road.

We believe the solution is for the city to build public housing units. The housing crisis is too large and the inequities too wide for market solutions to address. Residents throughout Portland are getting evicted daily, without recourse or support. That’s why we support mandatory legal representation for every resident being evicted.

More importantly, the underlying conditions of widening income inequality cannot be ignored any longer. The mayor’s continued disinvestment in education, city jobs, non-market-based housing solutions, and vital services are based in an ideology of austerity which must be rejected. We live in the wealthiest time in Portland’s history. His budget proposes closing down two community centers (Hillside and Fulton Park) and deep cuts to parks. There is plenty of wealth in this city: We reject the notion that services we depend on need to be pitted against each other. We demand solutions from our leadership — beginning with a high-earner income tax on the wealthiest residents that would raise $114 million per year.

The mayor’s budget proposes an increase in the business income tax from 2.2 percent to 2.6 percent. According to the mayor: “[T]he Portland Business Alliance [PBA] came to me to say they wanted to step up in a big way in this year’s budget.” While we appreciate the $15 million per year this tax increase will create, it is not nearly enough to address the hollowing out of our city services and institutions from decades of neglect. Moreover, we reject PBA’s caveats that this tax is in lieu of a gross receipts tax in the future. Portlanders will vote on the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF) as a ballot measure in November that will tax gross receipts of the largest corporations in Portland (i.e., Walmart, Target) to directly fund renewable energy projects in frontline communities. We support PCEF and refuse to allow PBA to hold our city hostage with these threats. Corporations will pay as much as we the people demand they pay.

We wholly reject an increase of $6.9 million to hire 58 police officers in Portland.

Despite the blatant violence and oppression exhibited by the Portland Police Bureau, Mayor Wheeler believes the problem should be solved with more police, which he believes will cut down 9–1–1 response time. What he fails to consider is that a full third of calls to 9–1–1 do not concern criminal activity and should be routed to trained, capable, and fully funded social service options that the city does not currently provide. We already know the devastating results of a poorly trained, overly militarized force. We need to invest in our communities and mental health services, not in the police force.

Mayor Wheeler lacks the vision to create a Portland that works for everyone. He is continuing the starvation budgets that have created vast inequalities, poor educational outcomes, soaring houselessness, and worsening quality of life for so many residents. Meanwhile, Portland keeps booming for those at the top.

As a first step toward supporting the people of Portland, we demand a local income tax on the wealthiest residents of the city. Our Tax Plan begins reinvesting in our city based on a simple metric: income.

The proposed income tax brackets are as follows:

Bracket 1: 2% tax on income in excess of $250,000 ($500,000 for joint filers)

Bracket 2: 4% tax on income in excess of $500,000 ($1,000,000 for joint filers)

Bracket 3: 6% tax on income in excess of $750,000 ($1,500,000 for joint filers)

Bracket 4: 8% tax on income in excess of $1,000,000 ($2,000,000 for joint filers)

The revenue produced would be as follows:

Approximately $114,000,000 annually across the City of Portland

We are calling on Portland City Council to publicly reject the mayor’s proposed budget and insist on a budget that actually takes into consideration the hundreds of people who attended the city’s budget forums.

We are calling on the City Council to commit to raising taxes on the city’s wealthiest citizens to fully fund public services and stop pretending that we can’t afford basic services just so the very wealthy can continue profiting from Portland’s boom. We are calling on Nick Fish, Chloe Eudaly, Amanda Fritz, and Dan Saltzman to raise their voices in opposition to yet another austerity budget, and we are calling on all candidates running for City Council to take a public stance on the mayor’s budget.

The Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Hailing from all corners of the socialist left, our goal is a better world beyond capitalism.