On June 20, Oregon's Portland City Council unanimously voted to approve a budget that had been one of the most grassroots-contested examples of austerity in recent memory.
Weeks earlier, in a vote to approve the framework of this budget on May 29, the City Council's long-maintained show of consensus was broken when Commissioner Amanda Fritz voted "No." (More on her vote later). However, by the final budget vote last Thursday she had been compelled to change her mind.
How has the 2013 budget developed? When the Portland Budget process began several months ago, newly elected Mayor Charlie Hales announced a $25 million deficit in the city's General Fund. Each bureau was told to submit budgets with 10 percent cuts, signaling Hales's determination to oversee mass lay-offs and the slashing or elimination of essential programs that many Portlanders have come to rely on.
So what worked in Portland to move things towards a better outcome? For starters, Mayor Hales and the City Council's pursuit of austerity was met with a public outpouring of opposition at public budget hearings. The resistance culminated on April 11 when over 400 protesting participants surprised the City Council and overwhelmed their staff. Attending were members of the Metropolitan Youth Commission, Laborers International Local 483, Portland Community College, Friends of Trees, Portland Safety Net, SUN Schools, Eastside Action Plan, Elders in Action, AFSCME Local 189, and numerous others. They stunned the City Council with emotional and at times confrontational testimony. Many dressed in red to show solidarity and carried an array of signs in defense of threatened social programs.
Also attending were [...]