Locals' cash fight with Gov. Brown heads to legislative board
The Oregon Legislature's emergency budgeting board today will take up complaints that, while Portland has received its fair share of coronavirus relief funds, other local governments have not received the funding intended under the federal CARES Act.
And while the meeting agenda appears boring, the emotions flaring up behind the scenes are fiery. Officials outside Portland are bitterly accusing Gov. Kate Brown and other state leaders of failing to give them their share of the $1.6 billion allocated to the state.
"Having blown through the vast majority of the CARES Act money on PDX, now we're down to the scraps," Rep. Marty Wilde, a Democrat who represents portions of Lane and Linn counties, wrote in an email to Brown's chief of staff, Nik Blosser. "My first boss in the military put it bluntly, 'Pigs get fed. Hogs get slaughtered.' You should not expect that we will continue to support spending without some assurance that our people won't be starved by PDX hogging the federal money."
A bipartisan group of 45 state lawmakers — including Sens. Laurie Monnes-Anderson of Gresham, Mark Hass of Beaverton, Ginny Burdick of Portland and Reps. Margaret Doherty of Tigard and Jeff Barker of Aloha — has signed on to a letter sent late Friday, Aug. 14, urging Brown, Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek to disperse another $200 million to locals, saying they've received only a small fraction of the funds allocated to Oregon, despite federal intent that 45% of that sum would be sent directly to local governments on a per-capita basis.
"On average, local governments receiving (coronavirus relief) dollars distributed through the state have received a share of less than 15% of those funds and the per capita amounts range widely across the state," the letter said. "As a result, most Oregonians will see less benefit from local programs to address the health and economic effects of the pandemic than what Treasury intended."
Brown spokesperson Liz Merah defended the governor's decisions in an email, saying, "We understand the concerns raised by local governments."
She asserted the state has allocated $400 million to locals, but local officials note that the total actually shared with them has been far smaller than that. Rather than handing over the funds to be spent by locals, the state is reimbursing some local spending.
Beyond that, Brown is counting some funds as local that in reality the state is spending on behalf of local governments, without giving them control. That debate will play out at the E-board today over Brown's desire to spend $105 million on personal protective equipment, including for local governments — funds that were put on hold during the last meeting of the Joint Emergency Board on Aug. 5 after local governments raised concerns.
The Aug. 5 dispute sparked the exchange between Wilde and Blosser. The governor's chief of staff sent an email afterward to local officials and lobbyists, saying, "Having local governments fight each other to purchase PPE is nothing short of insane. It's bad enough when states are doing it. ... You really want the state to stop purchasing PPE and distributing it directly to local governments? Including us stockpiling it for when local governments have surge needs in the fall?"
Wilde responded, "I think the gist of it is that we wanted to stop the spending until we could figure out how to make local governments get a fair shake. Effectively, our existing spending patterns tell my constituents that they are one-fourth as valuable to the state as people who live in PDX."
Lane-area officials like Wilde and Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis have been vocal about the issue.
"Local government, just like the state government, we're in an economic crisis," Vinis told the Portland Tribune. "We're looking for those federal funds to help us address very specific needs in our communities. The failure to disburse those funds to us directly makes it very hard for us to step forward and do things like invest in child care for people who need to return to work or support our own housing initiatives, or job regeneration or support for nonprofits that are picking up so many pieces in the community as people are falling deeper into poverty. They're just leaving us without the resources we need to address those very urgent needs."
Underlying complaints of some local officials is a federal allocation that provided some funds directly to larger jurisdictions — including $114 million to Portland, $105 million to Washington County, and $28 million to Multnomah County — before providing the remainder to the state to share.
But Portland-area officials have defended their funding, citing the city's situation and the county's role in serving the state's largest city and a disproportionate share of the state's homeless population.
In recognition of public health and homeless services provided by the county, the Portland City Council has approved sharing $36.5 million of its direct funding share with Multnomah. The city will also share $5 million with smaller cities in east county.
On Aug. 13, Multnomah County Director of Government Relations Jeston Black sent E-Board members and other lawmakers an email addressing what he called "misconceptions," citing figures showing that Multnomah's share of funds has been comparable to other local counties.
He said county spending has included nearly $11 million in isolation and quarantine funds, $12 million for contact tracing, $5 million for testing, and $33 million for medical motel shelters and physical distancing motel shelters for the homeless.
Black said any future funding decisions shouldn't leave Multnomah out.
"We believe including Multnomah County in future distributions is both equitable and in the best interest of almost 20% of Oregon's residents, and 24% of the state's BIPOC communities, residents that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic," he wrote, referencing Oregonians who are Black, Indigenous and people of color.
Considering that the Legislature did not take up the local governments' complaints last week, it's unclear if their concerns will get traction with the joint emergency budgeting board. On Aug. 11, Kotek told the Portland Tribune that one way or another, funds will need to be allocated to pay for the protective equipment that the state has already ordered.
The E-board meeting starts at 1 p.m. and can be watched at this link.
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