How broke is Tri-Met?
One of the items currently on my blog to-do list is to try to see how badly the pandemic has damaged the finances of our many layers of local government here in Portland. It's not something that can be easily done. I'm sure the bureaucrats know, and maybe a few of the smarter politicians. But the general public doesn't get updates all that often on the state of government finances. It's hard to find out where things stand month to month, or even quarter to quarter. And with the exception of my friend Ted Sickinger at the Oregonian, the mainstream media hardly ever ask.
Oh, each agency comes out with a fancy audited annual report, but it's many months after the fact. By the time the taxpayers see that information, it's stale. To root around for something more current would take more time than I've had lately. And the search might not even yield anything.
One of the many government agencies that heavily taxes Portlanders is Tri-Met, our regional mass transit agency. Those guys live off a fat payroll tax. But with the employment picture being as bleak as it is right now, their payroll tax receipts have got to be down. And certainly "farebox" revenue is seriously off, as their ridership numbers are in the tank, have been for six months, and will probably stay there for another year or more.
Maybe we'll hear more about their finances tomorrow. The Tri-Met board of directors, a collection of seven face cards hand-picked by the governor, will hold their monthly meeting then. At last month's meeting, one of the directors, Ozzie Gonzalez, piped up on Zoom and asked how things were going with money. He got absolutely nothing by way of an answer. "We'll talk about that next month," said the general manager, Doug Kelsey. And so they all dropped it and went on to other, daffier topics.
If I had to guess, I'd say Tri-Met is in trouble with the moolah. But if so, they can't admit it, because that would lead to some obvious questions about why they are still pushing hard to blow a few billion dollars to build an unnecessary and unwanted train line to Tualatin. Or why they're suddenly in the real estate development business. And many other inconvenient questions.
So maybe tomorrow someone will remember that Gonzalez asked a question last month that deserves an answer. And maybe we'll hear some numbers. But I wouldn't bet on it. This being Portland and all.