The mayor announced his 2014 proposed budget yesterday—I wrote about it here, you can read it for yourself here (have fun! It's 727 pages). I've never followed the budget process super-closely, I'm new here, so I'm looking for signals as to how it's gonna go.
Due to an expanding economy, 2014 is set to be the first year where the budget process is more about which new places to spend money and less about what vital things we have to cut because we can't afford them. It's a pretty fun budget, as budgets go, spending about $66.5 million more general fund money than the 2013 budget, a jump of about 7 percent. (Because this is the second year of a biennial budget, they'd already planned and endorsed a budget for this year; this general fund represents about $35 million more than they expected to have.)
But since it's an election year, and a majority of the city council has endorsed the mayor's opponent—hell, two of 'em ran against him—the bitterness runs deep, and the mood on the second floor of City Hall seems to be one of resignedly bracing oneself for a coming fight. There was a lot of laughter and sighing and "it's gonna be ugly" among staffers when I walked around yesterday.
Why's it gonna be ugly? Well, a budget fight during election season is a perfect opportunity for council to really lash out at the mayor over all the stuff they're really pissed about—namely, the way he operates, not his actual policies or values or what his budgets actually spend money on. People who tend to agree with him are basically doing that wince-and-turn-away move you do when you know someone's about to get clocked; people who hate him are gleefully polishing their boxing gloves, or whatever you do when you're about to clock someone.
Which seems really, really silly. Yeah, y'all don't get along. We get it. Yeah, y'all want the other guy in—probably gonna happen. But if people want to fight about dollars, I hope they manage to actually fight about dollars. What's funded here that shouldn't be funded? Should we save more money? (The Rainy Day Fund is already at record levels.) If these expenditures are stupid, whose services should get cut? Preschoolers? Immigrants? The homeless? The elderly? The cops? It's fine to want to change the budget—it is literally their job to change the budget. But let's work with specifics instead of rhetoric, huh?
Doesn't seem likely. Yesterday, budget chair Tim Burgess responded to the budget announcement by saying the mayor is spending a lot but "has yet to provide evidence that those increases would be an effective use of taxpayer dollars," going negative right out of the gate. But when asked, he won't call out anything in particular as insufficiently evidence-based. Eh, perhaps he will in the coming weeks. But except for entertainment value, I'm not exactly looking forward to this battle.