Local Plight, Federal Bite: Portland Community Budget Forum 4-11-2013

Local Plight, Federal Bite: Portland Community Budget Forum 4-11-2013

The City of Portland held its Community Budget Forum yesterday evening with Mayor Charlie Hales, Commissioner Nick Fish, Commissioner Dan Saltzman, and Commissioner Amanda Fritz presiding.

Educational, homeless and environmental groups dominated the floor and commenting session in the packed conference center at Montgomery Park. Audience members chanted “No More Cuts” as students implored the City Council to preserve funding for SUN Community Schools and the Multnomah Youth Commission. Hacienda CDC and Portland’s Clark Center also made a splash alongside supporters of the Buckman community pool.

Portland is a beautiful city, due in large part to the efforts of organizations like Friends of Trees (which stands to have 50% of its public funding cut from its budget and, of which, Mayor Charlie Hayes is on the board). The tranquility of the upper Willamette and the pace and lifestyle in Multnomah is creating an influx of folks from out-of-state, seeking a better existence and community. Portland is a growing community, and despite high unemployment figures, it is shaping itself into a formidable small business and incubator environment. Now is not the time to sell the future short.

Difficult economic times has required city, county and state governments as well as the federal government to make difficult decisions as to the programs that will continue to receive funding and those that will experience cuts or obsolescence. In these times, citizens should be thinking about the structure and relationship of these entities to one another and to the citizenry.

Healthy skepticism of government is only possible where such skepticism is impactful. The power and dominance of Washington D.C. override any such expressions and mute the voices that were so abundant at yesterday’s gathering. The fiscal cliff and sequestration are perhaps among the first signs of a dismantling of this industrial political complex, however, our state’s leaders in Washington D.C. need to begin the process of giving power back to their localities and citizenry – or face their own obsolescence.

Yesterday, Mayor Hales and the Commissioners physically heard their citizens’ outcries. Direct democracy of this kind does not exist at the faceless level of federal governance. Democracy at this level is a derivative of popular support.

The conversation surrounding local budgets should be one of the highest priorities for an Oregon politician in Washington D.C. Their concern for local budgets should coincide with the removal of our troops from foreign soil, the cleanup of antiquated federal infrastructure that has compromised our waterways and forests, and the protection of the principals of our Constitution for all citizens, regardless of color, creed or orientation.

Under the above circumstances, the conversation at yesterday’s Community Budget Forum would have sounded radically different. Folks would have been discussing further ways to collaborate and integrate. Instead, the health and well being of youth, women, minorities, the homeless and vulnerable are being jeopardized by the City’s cuts. Changing this outcome requires Oregon politicians in Washington D.C. to make the short-term sacrifices of power necessary for long-term care of our cities and state.

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