Portland ready with new tax handouts for private pals
When people complain about local government wasting money on frills while letting basic services decay, one of the stock responses is the "pots of money" song. It goes something like this: "You see, the money we're wasting is in a special pot that can be spent only on frills. It can't be spent on essentials. So don't complain about the essentials being neglected -- this money can't be spent on them." It's especially galling when the people giving you this line are the same people who drew up the separate pots, or who have the power to pour their contents all into one big pot at any time, if they wanted to.
Former Mayor Vera Katz, the person more responsible than anyone else for inflicting the current creepy mayor on the city, used to have a variation of this little ditty that she called "colors of money." "We can't spend yellow money on street paving. Only blue money is for that. Yellow money is for Homer Williams and Dike Dame." She was big on the colors. She had a whole "brownfields to greenfields" speech she used to croak out when she was selling the SoWhat District -- now becoming the biggest financial fiasco in the city's history. The ink there turned out to be all red, as the competent among us knew from the start.
Anyway, the politicians are extremely big on the segregation of funds when it suits them.
Another great excuse line is "That's not in our jurisdiction -- that's somebody else's jurisdiction." Just complain to Portland City Hall about the schools, the bridges, the lack of a decent mental health system, aircraft noise, or thinning bus service, and it won't be long before you hear, "We're not in charge of that. That's done by [the county, the school board, Tri-Met, etc.]."
It's with some amusement, then, that one sees right in front of one's nose how little the "pots of money" and lines of authority really mean when the politicians have their visions (or as they're referred to in medical circles, their spells). They'll take tax dollars from the Pearl District and use them to build a school out in the David Douglas School District if they darn well please. County need some cash to slosh around? Fine, have the city borrow a bunch of money under "urban renewal" and park it in some obscure county account somewhere because some day, somewhere, there's going to be a shiny new county courthouse. Sure, right after we fish the Sellwood Bridge out of the river.
There was a new one in the news late last week: Now the city's apparently proposing to hand $300,000 of city tax dollars over to the airlines that fly their few puny international flights in and out of the Portland airport. Without it, the airlines might cancel the flights, we're told. Part of me says, too bad -- things are tough all over. But even if a subsidy is a smart thing for Portland to do, that's the Port of Portland's responsibility, not the city's. The airport is a cash cow, even in lean times, and if the Port needs dough to bail out some airlines, it ought to be able to find it in its own accounts somewhere. Look under the blueprints for the totally unnecessary new headquarters it's building for itself. Let's take that $300,000 and pave some streets in Cully with it.
Speaking of city handouts, that's not all. Suddenly they're saying that Tom Moyer's going to get some checks so that the ridiculous hole in the ground that he made after he knocked down the Virginia Cafe might actually get built into something some day. His major financial blunder there will now become the city taxpayers' problem. Hey, what's more "blighted" than a mothballed skyscraper construction pit? Sounds good to the Sam-Rand Twins. Break out the checkbook.