Every four years or so, local governments go before voters and sing a familiar tune: We're broke. Next May, however, there may be so many levies on the ballot that local politicians will sound like the chorus in a Greek tragedy.

Pols at the City of Portland and Multnomah County are squabbling over which levies belong on the ballot. City Commissioner Jim Francesconi is pushing a $60 million parks levy. City Commissioner Dan Saltzman favors a $50 million early-childhood development levy. The county wants a $125 million library levy. And city and county officials are both wistfully eyeing a public-safety levy of unknown size.

The only thing anyone agrees upon is that the two jurisdictions should only propose one levy each. Otherwise, they risk a rerun of 1998's crowded ballot, when voters rejected three of four funding measures.

For the county, libraries are clearly the most pressing need. Fifty percent of the libraries' budget comes from a five-year levy that expires in 2003. But the county is also mulling a public-safety levy next November to fund operations at the new Wapato Jail.

On the city side, both Francesconi and Saltzman are jockeying for position. Under the one-levy rule, one of the commissioners is going to have to give--and neither seems to be in the giving mood.

Francesconi's parks levy would pay for maintenance and strengthen after-school activities. Saltzman's early childhood levy would fund a host of preschool programs and beef up law enforcement against child abuse.

Saltzman says he and Francesconi are still talking and trying "to be strategic." Translation: They'll settle on whatever has the best chance at the polls.

Sources say the parks levy would likely win 55-percent approval, while the early-childhood levy would draw 65-percent support.

Insiders expect the levy question to be settled next month. Whoever wins, you can bet you'll be hearing a familiar tune in May.