By MALLORY GRUBEN
More than 80 union jobs are on the chopping block if City of Portland leaders cannot find a way to fill a gaping budget hole at the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT).
PBOT projects a $32.6 million budget shortfall in the 2023-24 fiscal year because revenues from the fuel taxes and parking fees continue to decline as cars become more fuel efficient and as the pandemic changed how often people drive to work or travel to shop somewhere in person. At a budget workshop on Sept. 26, PBOT leaders outlined the consequences of cuts as a way to balance PBOT’s budget. Their proposal included laying off 88 workers; leaving 39 now-vacant positions empty; delaying accessibility upgrades of 30 sidewalks; skipping maintenance for at least 30 miles of roadway; ending landscaping, like mowing or cutting back bushes from street signs, at 171 locations; scaling back or ending transportation programs like Safe Routes to School and BIKETOWN for All; extending pothole repair response times past 30 days; and reducing snow plowing across 223 miles of roads.
“These are not just numbers. This is work we believe in, and this will impact our communities and our staff. … We’re talking about their livelihoods and their hard work,” PBOT Director Millicent Williams told the council.
Council members could also balance the budget by increasing parking fees, adding a citywide street fee to taxes, or diverting money to PBOT from the city’s general fund, Williams said. The last option could mean using money typically earmarked for public safety services, like the police and fire bureaus. Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Rene Gonzalez openly opposed that idea.
Laborers Local 483 Field Rep Paige Barton said her union would back any plans that would keep PBOT’s staff on the job.
“We would support any type of alternative funding they could locate, or if they need to absorb cuts by not filling vacancies,” Barton said. “Whatever keeps our members working, we would be supportive of,” Barton said. “I don’t think the community will realize the importance of PBOT until they are not performing at full staffing, and I don’t want people to find out how critical their work is that way.”