City leaders outcry over cutbacks falls on deaf ears
In wake of measure's defeat, state leaders elect to stick with plan
The Portland City Council's opposition to state budget cuts is getting short shrift from the Oregon Legislature.
The $310 million in statewide cuts, which already have forced the release of more than 100 Multnomah County jail inmates, come in the wake of Tuesday's defeat of Measure 28 Ñ the proposed state income tax increase.
'Even though voters in Portland and Multnomah County voted to pass Measure 28, the majority of Oregon voters rejected it. As a member of the Legislature, I must accept this decision and ensure it is implemented,' said state Rep. Mary Nolan, the assistant House Democratic leader who represents parts of Southwest Portland.
Democratic state Sen. Ginny Burdick, who represents parts of Southwest Portland, agreed, saying the only changes should be small adjustments made on a case-by-case basis.
For example, Burdick said, 'If someone has received a transplant, they shouldn't lose their anti-rejection medication. But those decisions can be made administratively, not by the Legislature.'
The day after Oregon voters overwhelmingly rejected Measure 28, city Commissioners Erik Sten, Dan Saltzman and Jim Francesconi said the cuts' effects were too severe for many city residents.
'I don't know what the right way is to make these cuts, but I think some of them will fall very hard on the disabled and the mentally ill, and the actual savings aren't all that great,' Sten said Wednesday.
But the drive to reconsider the cuts Ñ spearheaded by a handful of Republican legislators Ñ collapsed by Thursday morning. After a day of frantic Capitol meetings, Gov. Ted Kulongoski and most lawmakers ruled out reconsidering the cuts, which are scheduled to take effect by June 30, the end of the state's current fiscal year.
Inmates go free
Because of the declining economy, legislators have been forced to cut the 2001-03 state budget by more than $1 billion during the last two years. In the fifth and last special session last year, lawmakers put Measure 28 on the Jan. 28 ballot to prevent an additional $310 million in cuts by June 30, the end of the biennium. They also passed a bill outlining which cuts would occur if the measure failed.
The cuts began taking effect the day after Oregon voters rejected the measure 54 percent to 46 percent.
Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto began releasing approximately 140 inmates from jail. Reporters jammed the lobby of the Multnomah County Detention Center on Wednesday morning and afternoon to watch Giusto release the first two batches of inmates.
Giusto said the defeat of Measure 28 is forcing him to cut $1 million from his budget.
'We're going to get a national reputation as a good place to commit crimes,' Giusto said. 'The inmates are running the prison.'
State Sen. Kate Brown said the voters knew what would happen if Measure 28 was defeated, however.
'The voters knew what they were doing. They were informed of the cuts well in advance. The will of the voters should be respected,' said Brown, the Senate Democratic leader who represents parts of Southeast Portland.
Doing the numbers dance
Portland Public Schools Superintendent Jim Scherzinger thinks some minor cuts might be restored.
'You can always shuffle the deck chairs, and I think you may see some shuffling,' Scherzinger said. 'I think what typically happens É is the deck chairs tend to get shuffled to the areas the media has noticed. I don't think that's a good way to make public policy.'
Scherzinger does not expect the Legislature to bail out Portland Public Schools, however.
He said the failure of Measure 28 increases the district's ballooning budget deficit for this year by another $9 million. The only way to close the additional gap is to slice the current school year by nine more days, from the 15 days already proposed to 24 days, he said.
Scherzinger will outline a range of budget cut options to the Portland school board Monday night.
Portland Mayor Vera Katz and Francesconi are supporting a new effort to raise more local money for the schools. Katz has planned a meeting in her office on Monday that will include Francesconi, Portland education advocates, business leaders and others to talk about possible local funding options.
Some education advocates are considering a local payroll tax for schools that would be created as part of a larger business tax reform plan.
Tribune reporters Don Hamilton and Todd Murphy contributed to this story.