Portland’s anticipated final vote on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year has been kicked to next week after a surprise no vote by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly.
The vote came amid a national movement to defund police departments. Many Portlanders had been pushing for the city to cut at least $50 million from the Portland Police Bureau's budget. The most recent budget proposal had over $244 million going toward the police.
After a national outcry over the killing of George Floyd, the commissioners hammered out amendments to the budget related to police reform. These changes would stop money from the cannabis tax flowing into the police bureau, pull armed officers from schools, stop Portland police from being used as law enforcement on TriMet, dissolve the Gun Violence Reduction Team, and cut eight positions from the Special Emergency Reaction Team.
All told, these amendments would cut the police bureau budget by more than $15 million, according to a tally by the City Budget Office.
But Eudaly, while supportive of these changes, said she felt the cuts were “low-hanging fruit” and didn’t go far enough to address the dramatic shift in policing that so many are seeking.
“I can’t swallow another bitter budget pill in good conscience,” she said. “I vote no.”
Eudaly had proposed her own amendments Thursday, but only the one redirecting cannabis funds won the support of her colleagues. Eudaly and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty have been vocal in their belief that money from the cannabis tax should go to people harmed by the war on drugs and not the police.
Eudaly’s other amendments — the most significant of which would cut the police budget by an additional $4.6 million — were met with silence. By the time she read her fifth amendment out loud, the commissioner appeared emotional.
The budget was being treated as an emergency ordinance, which meant, to pass, it needed four votes. Eudaly’s no vote meant it failed. The budget will now be voted on next week, when it will only need three votes to pass.
After the vote, Hardesty released a statement calling Eudaly's no vote "performative allyship." She said, last year, she proposed half of what is currently on the table, including defunding the Gun Violence Reduction Team, and received no support for anyone on the Council, including Eudaly.
"While we are making strides in realigning our budget with our values, this no vote does nothing to materially support our BIPOC communities," she wrote. "All this does is delay the much-needed relief for our communities."
Eudaly's office responded saying the commissioner stands with the "tens of thousands of Portlanders who have demanded bold action" and will work with the Council to achieve a budget that reflects these calls for reform.
Many in the community had been pushing for a larger cut to the police bureau’s funding. Advocacy groups, including Unite Oregon and the Portland African American Leadership Forum, had created a list of demands they were urging the Council to consider amid a national uprising over police brutality. Chief among them: redirecting at least $50 million from the $244 million slated for the police bureau.
Those calls were echoed in two hours of testimony Thursday in the lead up to the vote. Many called for police budget cuts of $50 million, if not more, citing a need to drastically rethink policing.
“The foundation of our country, our state, and our city policing is racist — historically used to control people of color. Its foundation is so outdated. It’s rotten,” said Ashley Oakley, a resident of Northeast Portland, who said they work with organizations including Native American Youth and Family Center, Self Enhancement Inc, and The Coalition of Communities of Color.
“Any sort of reframing, retraining installation or inspections we try to build on, they’re not working. We need to defund the police and build a new foundation. Personally, I’ve never felt protected or served by police in Portland — nor any city I’ve ever lived in.”
In a meeting held with reporters before the budget vote, Hardesty, a vocal advocate for police reform for three decades, expressed skepticism that this figure was the right starting point.
“I'm not sure that $50 million is based on facts,” she said. “If I was an advocate outside, I would be giving a big number as well.”
Hardesty noted that this is not the last time the city will be looking at the budget, and said she is willing to look at other ways to reduce the need for police. She said she expects to see this reduction with the Portland Street Response, a new pilot program for the city that will have unarmed first responders address calls concerning people experiencing homelessness.
Hardesty also said that, unlike some of the demonstrators, she does not believe abolition of the police bureau is the answer to the systemic issues within policing. In a call over the weekend with community organizers, she stated clearly she was not an abolitionist.
“I’m old enough to know some people deserve to be in jail. That’s just my personal opinion. I’m never going to support the total abolition,” she said. “What I do believe is that police are doing way too much. They’re not mental health professionals. They’re not housing experts. They’re not social workers. And we’ve allowed them to expand their mission to the point that they think they do everything for everybody.”
As part of her budget changes, Hardesty unveiled a series of amendments that would curb the responsibilities of police. These included ending the city’s agreement with TriMet, so Portland police officers would no longer serve as law enforcement on public transit; disbanding the Gun Violence Reduction Team, which investigates shootings in the city; ending the school resource officer program, so armed police no longer work in schools; and eliminating eight positions within SERT, a police team that responds to emergency incidents.
All Hardesty’s amendments were supported by the Council and added to the budget. During the hearing Thursday, Hardesty thanked the thousands who have taken to the street each night for making it happen.
“I want to start by thanking the young people who have taken to the street for over two weeks,” she said. “I want to thank you for elevating this conversation to the point where there was no doubt that we would act.”
Hardesty has asked that nearly $5 million from the police bureau go to the Portland Street Response.
Earlier this week, Mayor Ted Wheeler promised a series of reforms, including cutting the police specialty units and making a $7 million cut to the Portland Police Bureau. Wheeler said he was not offering those amendments on Thursday as similar ones were being offered by his colleagues.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz added amendments that made money available for a tribal liaison position with the city’s Office of Governmental Relations and put more funding toward the Civil Rights Title VI Program in the Office of Equity and Human Rights.
Both Wheeler and Fritz said they approved of Hardesty’s amendments, which are estimated to cut $15 million from the police bureau.
“Although this doesn’t go as far as the community’s been asking us, it does make a significant difference,” Fritz said.
Wheeler framed the budget as a middle ground between the call to reduce police spending by roughly one-fifth and his earlier proposal that would have pulled $7 million, roughly 3% of the police budget.
“It’s not the 50,” he said. “But it’s not the seven.”
The Council expects to vote on the budget again next Wednesday.