Erik knows best
As I recall, tomorrow's the day when our fearless leaders on the Portland City Council are going to vote to spend our property tax dollars to finance local political campaigns.
That's right. Take more than a million bucks each election (including six figures in administrative overhead, I'm sure, if you were honest about it) and hand it over to politicians. So they won't take money from anyone else.
First it was called "Clean Money." Then when somebody asked where the "dirty" money was, they changed the name of it to "Voter-Owned Elections," or some other Orwellian moniker.
Whatever you think of the proposal, you've got to admit that it's a radical enough move -- and that financial times at City Hall are tight enough -- that the whole concept ought to be voted on by the public before it's implemented.
But it won't be. Because the council knows darn well what would happen. It would go down in flames.
That never stops the Portland City Council. Look at the Convention Center. Look at north side light rail. Look at having PGE taken over by a public utility district (PUD).
The voters say no, but the boys at City Hall just ignore that. They know what's good for us. We don't. It's nothing new.
But we were led to expect more from Mayor Tom Potter and Commissioner Randy Leonard. In his campaign, the mayor promised to listen to the public, but he's got his earplugs in on this one, chirping right along with Commissioner Erik Sten, godfather of "Clean Money," whose endorsement pushed Potter's recent mayoral bid over the top. And for his part, candidate Leonard said he was "different -- thank goodness," but when it comes to his new buddy Erik's wet policy dreams, he's the same as all the rest. And now that he got himself quoted in The New York Times over the Joint Terrorism Task Force, you can expect Fireman Randy to sign on to even more of Erik's expensive, fruitless, public-be-damned "big ideas." In return, Sten will have his back if and when we ever try to shine a bright spotlight into the financial black hole that is the city's police and fire pension liability.
"Clean Money" is an o.k. idea, albeit a bit obvious. My problem with it has always been how to pay for it. Even Congress didn't have the guts to just take campaign finance money out of tax revenues. Instead, they ask income taxpayers to state on their tax returns whether they would like to earmark $3 of their taxes to go to publicly finance the Presidential election campaigns. The vast majority -- close to 90 percent -- say no. Sten floated a number of ideas for funding "Clean Money" locally -- a tax on pizza deliveries was even in there at one point -- but they all fell flat. So essentially we're left with property taxes as the default option. And there won't be a checkoff option on your property tax bill, that's for sure.
As I suggested here a while ago, the public could force "Clean Money" onto the ballot, but it would take around 18,000 valid signatures, and they'd have to be gathered in the next 30 days. This is a sufficiently outrageous stunt that it deserves such a response, but you wonder whether anyone around here cares enough any more to take to the streets for smart government.
A lot of good people seem to be taking to the highway instead.