NOW Home Page
Politics & Economy
Science & Health
Arts & Culture
Society & Community
TV Schedule
For Educators
Topic Index
piggy bank
Politics and Economy
Transcript: Guns or Butter
More on This Story:


KEITH BROWN, NOW CORRESPONDENT: Recently, residents of Portland, Oregon took to the streets, not to protest the war in Iraq. But to try to save their public schools. Teachers, parents and students marched against budget cuts that closed several elementary schools, threatened to shorten the school year, and drastically cutback teachers pay.

Budget deficits in Portland have reached a boiling point, a city of about a half million people within Multnomah County. It's confronting some of the most severe cuts in services in the nation. And it's not just the school system that's threatened. Public safety, healthcare, services to the poor, the elderly and the disabled have all been slashed 10 to 17 and 1/2 percent.

SERENA CRUZ, MULTNOMAH COUNTY COMMISSIONER: Multnomah County is facing an incredibly difficult time right now. We're challenged with a local economy that's in decay. We're challenged with high unemployment. And we're challenged with a local funding base that isn't there.

KEITH BROWN: County Commissioner Serena Cruz and her colleagues are on the front line of this local struggle.

SERENA CRUZ: We're turning to the voters in May and we're going to ask them to pay 1.25 percent more personal income tax than any other county in the state.

KEITH BROWN: Is that asking a lot of a community that's already suffering?

SERENA CRUZ: We really feel like we have no place to turn, but to ask ourselves how do we solve this for ourselves.

KEITH BROWN: But in a state reeling from changes in the local economy that have replaced good-paying jobs in traditional industries, like timber and fishing, with low paying, service economy work raising taxes is a hard sell.

And it's not just in Oregon. Last month the National Governors Association met with President Bush and asked for urgent federal aid to help the states with education, health care and homeland security. But in his proposed federal budget, there's no new money for states.

PRESIDENT BUSH (FROM TAPE): I understand we've got an issue with our own budget, and you've got issues with your budgets. We can talk about that. Our budget is in a deficit. It's because we went through a recession. And we're at war.

KEITH BROWN: Forty-three states are projecting deficits this year. One of the causes: the weak economy. Oregon is a prime example. It has the second highest unemployment rate in the country and the worst hunger rate. (See NOW's State Budget Deficit Map and Life on the Edge: Oregon Hunger)

But states are also getting less from the federal government. And they share the pain down the line. For Portland's Multnomah Country this fiscal year that means a shortfall of state and federal funds amounting to five million dollars a month.

Already, cuts in health care have left close to 8-thousand people without prescription drug coverage. 100-thousand more are expected to lose state coverage this summer.

And because of cuts in Medicaid nearly 150 senior citizens and people with disabilities are being forced out of their care facilities.

SERENA CRUZ: There are 90 year old men who are being kicked out of their assisted living facility because there's no money to keep them there.

KEITH BROWN: It seems as if the most vulnerable here in the community are being affected most by these cuts in services.

SERENA CRUZ: Absolutely. I really think that kind of the way you judge how well you're doing your job in government is whether or not you're protecting those who are most vulnerable in your…in our… in your community. And right now I think we're failing on that front. KEITH BROWN: And that's not all. Slashes in the sheriff's budget have resulted in the release of 300 inmates from jail...including repeat burglars, and two sex offenders.

SHERIFF BERNIE GUISTO,MULTNOMAH COUNTY SHERIFF: And the worst part about it, we are not done. This is only, this is the best news we've got coming in the next six months. Things could get even worse, we could release another 300-500 people if we do not get help from the state legislature soon.

KEITH BROWN: Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto is a 30 year veteran of law enforcement. His department is now expected to cut 10% more from its budget that is already bare-bones.

SHERIFF BERNIE GIUSTO: The sheriff's office started with a budget of about $101 million dollars probably three or four years ago. We're now down to about $84 million, headed for $74 million dollars. That's a huge cut in a county this big.

KEITH BROWN: And now there is an added burden. The local cost of the war on terror.

SHERIFF BERNIE GIUSTO: So the city of Portland police bureau has been on 12 hour shifts, a tremendous amount of overtime, canceling days-- canceling days off and-- and-- vacations for their people. A very expensive proposition. KEITH BROWN: The city of Portland has increased patrols in the downtown area and has opened an emergency operations center.

KEVIN PLATT, MULTNOMAH COUNTY DEPUTY SHERIFF: This is what I'm talking about right here, on that cement support, see right on the dead center there.

KEITH BROWN: On top of that the county has the job of protecting vulnerable waterways, bridges and dams.

KEVIN PLATT, MULTNOMAH COUNTY DEP. SHERIFF: With the heightened levels of security, we have to expand that to commercial vessels, ships out of the area, out of country, and other circumstances that might raise our level of suspicion.

SHERIFF GIUSTO: I had to double my patrols to guard what is the largest number of bridges in the state of Oregon. All the way from the five or six county bridges we have to the two state bridges that we have. And we have a large expanse of waterway.

KEITH BROWN: The city budgeted 500-thousand dollars for extra security measures. It turns out it's costing the city between 100- and 200-thousand dollars per day.

There was something more they didn't count on, the city has had to provide security for the swelling crowds gathering for and against the war.

SHERIFF BERNIE GIUSTO: Oh, it all costs money. And the reason for that is for the 95 percent of people who come to demonstration peacefully, we'd never have to do it. But we're always guarding against that five and 10 percent that decide that civil disobedience, destruction of property is the way that they're gonna express that.

KEITH BROWN: Just days before the first bombs dropped on Iraq, commissioner Serena Cruz was among 30-thousand anti-war protesters.

SERENA CRUZ: The resources that are being brought together, in order to fight this war, come at the cost of resources that could be going into our economy, and going into our community to address the needs of those most vulnerable.

KEITH BROWN: This fiscal year, Multnomah County has 61-million dollars less to spend this year than it did last year. No one here is saying the war is the direct cause of the county's fiscal crisis. But what Commissioner Cruz and a growing number of public official are saying is that the billions of federal dollars needed to wage war in Iraq would be better spent and are desperately needed right here at home.

SERENA CRUZ: It is important for the federal government and for the President ... at the same time that we're trying to win this war with Iraq, that we don't lose sight of the people in our cities, in our counties, in our states, across this country.

KEITH BROWN: For Commissioner Cruz, funding for essential services is a personal issue.

SERENA CRUZ: I grew up in public schools at a time when they gave kids like me access to a new world, and new opportunities. I mean if I hadn't grown up in Oregon at a time when our schools were well funded, I don't know that I'd be sitting across from you today.

KEITH BROWN: Cruz grew up in a working class family in Eugene, Oregon. She went on to study law at Berkeley and got a masters from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. In 1998, she was elected Multnomah County's first Mexican American Commissioner.

Her county was among 150 towns, cities and counties across the country that passed a resolution that said no to war. They were a part of a national campaign — Cities for Peace. The resolution read in part:

"A war in Iraq would likely cost the U.S. government over $100 billion, an amount that could go a long way to meeting our health and educational needs."

KEITH BROWN: But for some Portland business leaders and city council members — a resolution involving foreign policy simply took away from pressing local issues.

One of the arguments is that it's just not appropriate for local politicians to get involved in foreign policy. Is there some truth to that?

SERENA CRUZ: I certainly think it doesn't make sense for us to get involved in all foreign policy. You know, we're at--

KEITH BROWN: So why this one?

SERENA CRUZ: We got involved here because, again, we see the compelling needs in our community that are going unmet. And yet, we don't understand the compelling need for this war.

KEITH BROWN: Now that the war has begun…cities for peace is rallying to pass new resolutions around the country calling for the withdrawal of troops and the reinstatement of united nations weapons inspections.

PRESIDENT BUSH (FROM TAPE): "Every dollar we spend must serve the interests of our nation, and the interests of our nation in this supplemental is to win this war and to be able to keep the peace."

KEITH BROWN: The 75 billion dollars President Bush has requested to fight the war and keep the "peace" will only cover the first six months. And the rebuilding of war torn Iraq will cost billions more.

SERENA CRUZ: Those are big dollars that are being discussed, and I guess from our perspective, the hard part is, not knowing what the costs are going to be. Not knowing when this will all end. And believing that we have the capacity to heal ourselves out here, but if the economy isn't given a chance to return, how do we even get that chance?

about feedback pledge © Public Affairs Television. All rights reserved.
go to the full archive