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Public money should be spent first and foremost on the people’s top priorities.

Section Summary

While Portlanders disagree on the value of specific public investments, there is wide agreement among respondents that tax dollars should be spent with the utmost efficiency, transparency and equity. There is also broad consensus that public expenditures should advance the public’s priorities over the priorities of what are perceived to be special interests. Respondents would also like to see more efficiency in government spending. Many were unsure how their money is being spent, believing much gets wasted in the current government system (also see Government: Performance).

They would like to see less duplication of effort and more coordination between different bureaus and agencies. They would also like to see more spending on preventative measures that are cost-effective and long-lasting. Community members would like greater public participation in the budgeting process, believing their interests will be better served if they are more involved. They also call for a number of changes to the budgeting process itself, as well as the form of city government, with the overarching goal of better aligning spending with long-term city priorities.

Summary of Main Ideas

  1. Tax money should be spent efficiently, equitably and with transparency.
  2. Spending needs to be better aligned with the community’s vision for the city as a whole.
  3. Spending should be cost-effective and focused on prevention.
  4. Spending should be geared towards “fixing the basics first.”
  5. Development spending needs to better serve neglected areas.


  1. Spend money efficiently, equitably and with transparency.
  • Even Portlanders who support higher taxes want to be assured that the government is doing the best possible job with the money it already has and that spending is fair.
  • Many people are concerned about who currently benefits most from expenditures of public money (e.g., developers, the poor, the wealthy, big business, close-in neighborhoods). The belief expressed is that the benefits of public spending are not distributed equitably across the city.
  • Many people are unsure about how their money is spent and believe that much of it is wasted in the current government system.
  • The more efficient, accountable and transparent spending is, the more willing people are to continue paying taxes for the services the community needs.
“[In 2030] City and County have made clear, complementary business cases for their missions and investments. Services reflect citizen willingness to pay. With clear identities, city and county interact effectively with service partners (fed/state/metro/profit, and nonprofit).”

Encourage a citizen-based audit committee, and allow them access to the records, including suggesting areas of revenue/outlay they may not know exists.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Increase public involvement in the budgeting process.
  2. Collaborate with the nonprofit community to reduce costly duplication of services.
  3. Ensure that the city's fee structure is more open and honest.
  4. Improve monitoring of city investments.
  5. “A complete and independent audit of the city’s finances and spending practices.”
  6. Have City Council issue a report to the public on budget allocations, specifying how much is spent and on what items.

  1. Spending needs to be better aligned with the community’s vision for the city as a whole.
  • Much frustration is voiced over spending decisions that do not seem to benefit the city as a whole. The OHSU tram is frequently cited.
  • Elected officials are viewed as making decisions to advance specific agendas rather than decisions that benefit the entire city or move the city towards a concrete, collective vision.
  • The quote “Portland is in a pet project rut” articulates many people’s frustration with investments and spending decisions that do not seem tied to a cohesive, city-wide vision for the future.
  • Many are frustrated with the City for giving tax breaks to people already perceived as wealthy (developers, condo owners) when there are still so many unmet basic needs for food, shelter, medical care and high quality education.
  • A very large number of Portlanders want the City to spend public funds on projects that enhance community livability for everyone, not just for certain groups.
"We talk a great deal about keeping a focus on the working poor, the under or uninsured, about improving our schools and strengthening our communities. But we also pour a lot of our resources into developments that will benefit the most advantaged or into projects that may have a great deal of immediate appeal (city-wide WiFi, the tram, sports teams, etc…) but aren’t necessarily a great use of our resources.”

"Tax dollars spent wisely on projects to benefit the whole city rather than a few.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Tie spending to long-term goals that reflect the people’s priorities and are accompanied by measurable outcomes.
  2. Increase the resources available to neighborhoods so they can make some of their own spending decisions.
  3. Create budgets that are longer than one or two years and implement full life-cycle budgeting for projects.

  1. Spending should be cost-effective and focused on prevention.
  • Many people call for spending to prevent problems, rather than having to invest large sums of money to fix problems after they’ve occurred.
  • Preventative spending is seen as being more cost-effective over the long-run than reactionary spending that addresses problems only when they reach a crisis point.
  • People see the following as examples of preventative spending:
    • Improving public education;
    • Protecting air, water and overall environmental quality;
    • Creating housing that is truly affordable to people of all income levels, including those at 0-30% of Median Family Income;
    • Job training programs for at-risk youth, individuals with disabilities and former offenders;
    • Programs to promote the acceptance of diversity and minority cultures;
    • Services for the mentally ill; and
    • Community policing.
  • Many would like to see spending decrease on items such as prisons and unemployment, which they believe are only necessary when preventative measures such as education and job training have failed.
  • Some also wanted to remind the City that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This was mentioned frequently in regards to the redevelopment of the bus mall downtown.
"Change comes from transformative efforts, not ameliorative ‘band-aid’ programs. Part of creating important economical and social change will involve preventative programs that do not have immediate results, but will benefit all Portlanders.”

"Focus on secure and stable funding and service provision for education, antipoverty services, community centers in impoverished areas and drug and alcohol treatment. These and other services that are future oriented and will prevent larger problems and costs in the future.”

  1. Spending should be geared towards “fixing the basics first.”
  • Frustration is expressed over spending on new projects and development when existing systems need maintenance and improvement.
  • Spend first and foremost to ensure that the city is excelling in its fulfillment of primary obligations, such as:
    • Better police training to create an excellent police force;
    • Fixing the roads and bridges;
    • Increasing access to parks and greenspace in underserved neighborhoods;
    • Making sure that all Portlanders have a place to live that they can afford; and
    • Maintaining air and water quality.
  • Large sums of public money should not be spent on baseball stadiums, tourist attractions, or other “optional” items until the previous obligations are met.
"Quality of life begins with what we SEE everyday. This addresses everything from air quality to road maintenance.”

“Work on the basics. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Hit the basics out of the ballpark. Fix the schools and work on housing (low and middle income affordability).”

[I would like to see] a city that works. A govt that focuses on the traditional role of gov’t: roads, parks, police, fire, and zoning.”

  1. Re-orient development spending to better serve neglected areas.
  • Many call for a more equitable distribution of urban renewal and redevelopment dollars across the city.
  • A significant amount of frustration is voiced over the subsidization of residential improvements downtown and in the Pearl. The general sense is that because these are desirable, close-in locations, they would develop even without City help.
  • Less desirable areas need City attention if they hope to revitalize. These include:
    • Southeast 82nd Avenue;
    • Outer Southeast Portland (some requests to pave the streets in Lents);
    • East Portland, which is generally seen as underserved;
    • Saint Johns (needs better public transportation services); and
    • Some areas of inner Northeast and North Portland.
  • Many ask why the City would subsidize projects that cater primarily to higher-income residents who can afford housing that’s already on the market, when there are so many low and middle-income families who cannot afford to live close-in.
  • For more discussion, see Economy: Housing and Economy: Poverty.
“I would like to see more public funds directed toward incentives for community involvement, smart building programs, intelligent urban design for average Portlanders (enough with the high-end developments, PDC!)”

It’s not always about economic development. Please – reduce public giveaways to developers –create more affordable housing for low-income residents.”

First and foremost you must provide services and support for the challenged neighborhoods of Portland. If you only provide funds to the wealthy (waterfront and Pearl) and do not address the livability of the entire city, we will all lose…”

“An end to the everlasting increase in development and funneling of our tax dollars to special interests…surely redevelopment of blighted areas into new low-income housing should have preference. After all, close-in neighborhoods, if they’re livable, are desirable on their own and don’t need subsidies.”

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