Portland Mayor Charlie Hales released a proposed city budget Thursday largely free of the dramatic threats to sacred cows (and horses) that marked his last budgeting season.
But Hales' proposals for the $423 million general-fund budget include one striking omission: He's not supplying the $1 million requested by City Commissioner Steve Novick to build crosswalks for pedestrian safety.
Hales and Novick are both pushing a street maintenance fee that would charge households up to $12 a month, and businesses much more. They say the Portland Bureau of Transportation doesn't have enough money for streets and sidewalks.
Novick's budget requests to the mayor in March included $1 million to install flashing crosswalk beacons in Southwest and East Portland. As WW first reported, he also asked for $650,000 to study the possibility of building a new light-rail line through Southwest Portland to Tualatin.
Hales has not funded the crosswalks—but he did fund the transit-line planning.
In a Thursday press event discussing his budget, Hales said he decided against funding crosswalks because it would have lessened the urgency of passing the fee.
"We don't have enough money to do that," Hales said. "More importantly, it would send people a false hope. We're saying to our citizens: 'Don't kid yourself.'"
But if the city doesn't have enough money for crosswalks, how does it have enough money for scouting capital projects?
Hales said he sees planning the Southwest Corridor high-capacity transit line as a long-term investment, rather than a stop-gap measure.
"We ought to stay in that game, so long as we have a transit agenda," Hales said. "That doesn't mean we don't have a mess on the [maintenance] side. But it's a ray of light."
A city audit in February 2013 found spending on new construction—such as $55 million on the Milwaukie light-rail extension—has left the transportation bureau without enough money for basic road upkeep.
Novick tells WW he's disappointed not to see the crosswalks funded before passing a fee, but understands Hales chose other priorities such as homeless services.
"The mayor's got a tough job," Novick says. "I thought [the $1 million] would have been sort of a down payment. Spending some money on it would have showed how serious we are. But I understand where he's coming from."