Why I Voted Against the City Budget

I was finally able to get my budget presentation pdf-ified into two documents: part one and part two.

While I have conscientiously reviewed the proposed city budget in years past, this year I scoured the budget, looking in every crack and crevice. Overall, there were many positive aspects to this budget that I have pushed for and am very pleased to see: 200 more police officers, 30 more code inspectors, etc. But when I saw how little (less than 1%) of our budget that we’re spending on code enforcement, it really made me think our budget is not aligned with the priorities I’m hearing from you. In talking with my constituents, code is the second most important issue next to police.

I’ve never voted against a budget before, and this year I struggled. But I ended up voting against the budget for several reasons: One, I think we need to realign our priorities. That will mean cutting some things (which I tried to do in my budget amendments) to focus on the most important issues. We need to fundamentally rethink our budget. I’m going to ask for your help on this, but we’ll discuss this more in December.

Second, the process was flawed. Long story short, several councilmembers (including me) put together very specific amendments, cutting programs and adding to others. The mayor decided not to go through these item by item, but just vote the entire amendments up or down. I think that gives short shrift to a $2.7 billion budget. We discussed amendments for less than two hours, which is totally inadequate. The amendments are the only time councilmembers directly change the budget; otherwise, it’s wholly staff-created. (Some councilmembers argued that we’d had dozens of budget meetings, so we’d aired out all budget issues. That misses the fact that the council only had ONE meeting to discuss amendments, a meeting which lasted less than two hours. I think that’s insulting to our residents.)

Lastly, I think our budget is too optimistic in this financial climate. It’s not an overstatement to say our country is in a financial crisis. We need to cut back as much as possible and prepare for lower than predicted property and sales tax revenue. I hope the optimistic predictions turn out to be right, but I’d rather plan for the worst. Under the adopted budget, I predict we will not see as much money flowing into the city coffers as hoped, and that mid-year the city will have to cut services to make up for the shortfall.

That’s the crux of my reasoning for voting against the budget. I moved to amend the budget to include the amendments offered by Councilmember Rasansky and me (reduce the budget and supplement code, streets, public safety, and provide a pay increase for sanitation workers now making minimum wage). Only Mr. Rasansky and I voted for the amendment, and the council passed a budget that included additions premised on additional sales tax revenue and city fees. I think that’s a grave mistake in this financial climate.