Budget Workshop Open Thread


Let’s keep the thread but update this space. Last night was quite educational. If you saw it, you probably know a lot more about the pension mess, for example. Perhaps you were also delighted, as I am, with the addition to the process of the Financial Advisory Committee. As Mayor Van Buer said, “It brings the discussion to a whole new level.” In fact, since I did my part to advance the idea both at Council and in a letter to the editor, I am going to take partial credit for it.

On the flip I will publish Lynn’s speech from last night. Express permission is given to reprint in full.

See you tonight, I hope.

[This may not be exact, as a couple of libs were added on the fly.]

The other day I was talking with one of my neighbors about taxes and I actually said, “I feel like a spigot.” We taxpayers are the spigot, and the city turns us on whenever it’s thirsty–and not in a good way–and the tank is running dry. My neighbor is concerned about the people on fixed incomes getting squeezed. There is a lot to be worried about.

I notice that the 2009 proposed budget assumes there are more tax hikes on the way. That is very worrisome. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to the city that if IT is in trouble, the typical RESIDENT could be in trouble, too, and that means tax hikes won’t work. We are clearly in recession territory and entering a period of stagflation. You can up the sales tax all you like but you are not getting more out of people who are jumping from steak to hamburger, from hamburger to baloney, or from baloney to stone soup. You can triple the building permit fees but 3 times 0 still equals zero. This is a time for tax cuts, for budget cuts, and for re-establishing priorities.

Some departments and divisions have begun this process. The coffee fund and the parties are gone, and hardly anybody is redecorating their office. It looks like some are holding back on new equipment purchases as well. The divisions and departments that are trying to cut are being noted by citizens, and we will remember. Credit where credit is due.

Still, we all know that the biggest monsters in this budget are personnel costs. Wages, benefits and pensions get a bigger slice every year and that has to stop.

I want to make clear that I do NOT buy the frame that our only choices are tax hikes OR layoffs. For one thing, let’s address the raises in this proposed budget. In a budget emergency, NOBODY gets a raise. Short term, wages must be frozen—they maybe even require some trimming—and employees paying another percentage point or two toward their comprehensive health coverage should be considered. Long-term, workers must get wage, insurance and pension deals that we can actually afford. Plus, I don’t think it’s right to outpace the people who pay you–I think there’s a moral question in there, too.

And secondly, when you come right down to it, personnel costs already have created de facto cuts in the quality of services. Assuming that the top priorities of the city are to provide police and fire protection, deliver clean water, maintain streets and ensure waste pickup, the city already is failing us in several ways. If we siphon off so much money from the water division that it can’t replace the old water mains, it’s a failure. If we don’t supply the police department with the space it needs to do its job, that’s a failure. And if we can’t dig up a little money for sidewalk repair, well that is so basic as to be something of a disgrace. It’s time we put fees and fines into infrastructure, where, incidentally, they legally belong. The habit of paying salaries with fees is coming back to haunt us big time. We must change direction, fast, and for the long haul.