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Commissioner Steve Novick

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Phone: 503-823-4682

fax: 503-823-4019

1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204

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Lincoln on Government

by Steve Novick-- The following is adapted from a piece of mine that the Register-Guard was kind enough to print a few years ago:

Abraham Lincoln is, of course, best known as the first Presidential candidate to win Oregon. (As you know, we became a state in 1859 – and we made the right choice.) Then of course there was that whole business of freeing the slaves and winning the Civil War. But Abraham Lincoln should also be remembered as one of America’s most eloquent explainers and defenders of the role of government.

In a July 1854 essay, Lincoln wrote:

“Why … should we have government? Why not each individual take to himself the whole fruit of his labor, without having any of it taxed away?” He answered his own question: “The legitimate object of government, is to do for the people whatever they need to have done, but which they can not do, at all, or can not do, so well, for themselves – in their separate and individual capacities … There are many such things … roads, bridges and the like; providing for the helpless young and afflicted; common schools … the criminal and civil [justice] departments.”
In the same essay, Lincoln made this observation: “The best framed and best administered governments are necessarily expensive.” In other words: in government, as in life, you get what you pay for. That seemed obvious to Lincoln – but today, most supporters of government services would probably be too scared to be that blunt.

Lincoln’s views on taxation were somewhat out of sync with modern Republicanism; he thought that the wealthier members of society should pay a good deal of the cost of government. As President he enacted a progressive income tax. As an Illinois state legislator in 1839, he defended a proposed tax increase this way: “I believe it can be sustained, as it does not increase the tax upon the ‘many poor,’ but upon the ‘wealthy few.’”

He added, with a touch of mischief:

“The wealthy can not justly complain, because the change is equitable … If, however, the wealthy should, regardless of the justness of the complaint, as men often are, when interest is involved, complain of the change, it is still to be remembered, that they are not sufficiently numerous to carry the elections.”
Smart guy, that Lincoln.

Originally posted on on Feb. 12, 2009

Photo credit: Smithsonian

New regional organization launched to prepare Portland-Vancouver area for earthquakes, other disasters

Several local and regional governments in the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan region formally launched a new public-private-non-profit organization devoted to creating a secure and disaster-resilient region. Known as the Regional Disaster Preparedness Organization, or “RDPO” for short, participants include the City of Portland, Clackamas, Clark, Columbia, Multnomah, and Washington counties, Metro, Port of Portland, and TriMet along with other cities and special districts in the region.

The RDPO offers a venue to bring together elected leaders, public safety officials, emergency responders, planners, and the wider community to work toward a shared goal of making the region more prepared for a disaster, including a major Cascadia earthquake. Initially formed in 2012, the RDPO became official this January when TriMet, the group’s eighth and final core funding partner, voted to ratify the agreement. More than a dozen other local jurisdictions, along with several private and non-profit sector organizations, are also expected to formally join the RDPO in 2015.

“We live in a region with many interdependencies, including our hospitals, telecommunications and transportation systems. As was evidenced during the 1996 Oregon floods and the 2007 Vernonia flood, disaster response and recovery requires coordination of many partners,” said Tony Hyde, RDPO Policy Committee Chair and Columbia County Commissioner.

“A few years ago, local governments and private and non-profit sector partners saw a critical need to unify existing preparedness efforts,” said Hyde. “The formal adoption of the RDPO demonstrates our shared commitment to work as a region to make this happen.”

RDPO members coordinate by participating on committees, work groups, and task forces established to discuss broad policy topics and specific preparedness issues, setting funding priorities for the regional use of federal homeland security grant funds, developing plans, offering trainings, and conducting emergency drills.

“The work isn’t flashy, but it’s vitally important toward getting us ready for the hazards we know will affect us in the future,” said Denise Barrett, RDPO Manager. “The RDPO has already achieved several major successes, including bringing together fire, law enforcement and other public safety agencies throughout the region to agree on a plan on how they would coordinate in the event of a major disaster.”

More information on the RDPO can be found at

ATTACHMENT: RDPO Background Document

FY 2015-16 Requested Budget: Portland Bureau of Transportation

As you are aware, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has, since the late 1980s, been facing constrained resources available for basic maintenance of the streets, sidewalks, roads, bridges and bike lanes that residents use every day. As inflation continues to erode the purchasing power of PBOT’s discretionary funds, the community rightly demands more access to public transit, safer routes for biking and walking, more comfortable routes for seniors to reach services and more preventive maintenance of the pavement system that comprises the City’s largest asset. Mayor Hales and I started the Our Streets PDX community conversation last year to try to find a new funding source that would provide on-going dollars for critical maintenance and safety needs. That conversation led to the Portland Street Fund proposal last fall and will continue with the State Legislature this spring and with the community later this year. As the Mayor said in his State of the City address, we hope for action from Congress and the state Legislature, but regardless of what they do, the needs are great enough that Portland will still have to find a new way to fund our local transportation needs.

In this light, PBOT is requesting $30.1 million in General Fund additions. Here is a description of each, in order of priority:

PBOT has submitted two general fund requests in the budget document that benefit assets and infrastructure. The first is a request for funding maintenance and safety projects as identified through the Our Streets effort, and the second is a request for funding through the existing asset maintenance and replacement program. Those details are READ FULL BUDGET REQUEST

FY 2015-16 Requested Budget: Bureau of Emergency Communications

I respectfully submit the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) FY 2015-16 Requested Budget for your consideration. We have developed this budget as a stability budget with decision packages essential for ensuring the bureau has the resources it needs to answer 9-1-1 calls and dispatch an appropriate response.

BOEC’s job is immense. In 2013, BOEC answered 913,063 calls, including 395,792 9-1-1 calls. Seconds count when a crime is happening, when fire is beginning to spread, or when someone is experiencing a cardiac arrest. So, BOEC’s goal is to answer 99% of 9-1-1 calls within 60 seconds, and the Bureau tracks the percentage of those calls answered within 2 seconds, 20 seconds, 60 seconds, and 120 seconds. Investing in a timely and effective 9-1-1 response is often the best way to improve total response times to these emergency incidents.

The Bureau’s front line staff, generally, are fully trained and certified both as calltakers and dispatchers, and the Bureau uses a model that moves staff from one role to another throughout their shifts. When the Bureau’s staffing level dips, there is a cascade of effects, including delays in answering and dispatching 9-1-1 calls, increased use of mandatory and voluntary overtime, and declining staff morale. Since new recruits require a minimum of 18 months to train fully and the nature of the work makes retaining those new recruits challenging, it takes time for the Bureau to recover from a staffing dip.

Currently, the bureau has 79 certified dispatchers, 8 certified calltakers, and 14 trainees. These levels are low by historical standards because the Bureau continues to recover from a staffing freeze implemented from fall 2010 through spring 2011 in order to train existing staff on the new READ FULL BUDGET REQUEST

FY 2015-16 Requested Budget: Portland Bureau of Emergency Management

The bureau’s one-time general fund requests support the continuity of essential city services and facilitate the reporting of key performance indicators of citywide disaster resilience. Every bureau contributes to the functioning of the City and every bureau has employees whose safety is important, and whose skills may serve the City in an emergency. For that reason, Mayor Hales required every bureau to complete and maintain a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP). These plans formed the basis of a citywide business continuity plan and PBEM is expected to report on the number of bureaus with updated COOP plans that meet or exceed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) standards as one of the Key Performance Indicators for citywide disaster resilience. Many bureaus are struggling to develop adequate COOP plans. PBEM’s one-time add request will fund a limited term position to work with bureaus to ensure their continuity plans meet FEMA standards.

Portland is vulnerable to damaging earthquakes caused by the offshore Cascadia Subduction Zone as well as from local crustal faults. Most City buildings were not built to withstand strong ground shaking, including facilities needed to provide essential city services. While all fire stations have been retrofitted, other facilities such as the Police Bureau’s Central Precinct and PBOT’s Emergency Operations Center have not been retrofitted or even assessed. A major step forward in the effort to reduce the City’s vulnerability to a catastrophic quake is to assess the seismic risk of City buildings, beginning with vulnerable facilities that are essential to emergency response. This was an important recommendation of the citywide COOP Work Group. Funds are requested to seismically assess a prioritized list of city owned facilities that can be used to inform future capital improvement requests.

During the fall BuMP, Council approved funding to complete a second city-owned fueling station on the west side of the river (at the SFC Jerome F. Sears US Army Reserve Center), upgrade several other city-owned fueling stations and construct a new fueling station east of I-205. However, additional building and other site improvements are needed to fully utilize the READ FULL BUDGET REQUEST