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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Biggest Winner in City Budget Vote? Portland's Safety Net

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, May 30, 2012 at 12:14 PM

Nick Fish persuaded his colleagues to also support the Portland safety net.
  • Israel Bayer
  • Nick Fish persuaded his colleagues to also support the Portland safety net.
So, remember that Facebook campaign this spring called "I Support the Portland Safety Net"—an effort by housing advocates and famous people and politicians to persuade Mayor Sam Adams not to shred social services programs in the coming year's city budget?

Yeah, well, it worked.

With the council tentatively approving its 2012-2013 budget this morning, the Portland Housing Bureau wound up with every cent of the $4.8 million it asked for this year—for needs like rent-assistance, foreclosure prevention, housing construction, and winter homeless shelters—despite the city needing to cut millions in spending while also bailout out Portland school districts.

And while that alone would qualify as good news, that wasn't all.

In a surprise amendment today by Housing Commissioner Nick Fish, that safety net money will no longer be contained in the city's so-called "shadow budget"—a register of permanent expenses that, somehow, every year, are always funded with "one-time" money. Instead, those programs will now be allocated as "ongoing" expenses, making them much harder to sacrifice in years when the city's finances are lousy.

This will likely be overshadowed by hubbub today over water rates, which saw cops on duty during the council meeting and shouts of "bullshit" by three different community members. But it's worth noting, because it makes a hugely laudable statement about Portland's values—and it points to the power of community outrage.

While Mayor Sam Adams has reliably been a backer of the safety net, this year's budget was especially challenging. Fish gave credit where credit was due.

"They were indefatigable," he said of groups like Street Roots and JOIN and the Oregon Opportunity Network. "They knew what we knew, which is that everything was on the table and that there was, frankly, the likelihood of severe cuts."

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