Follow by Email

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sometimes when politicians speak a little truth comes through.
To understand the local approach to public budgeting it is only necessary to listen to what those currently in power say. Take Dave Bennett, the term-limited city councilman now running for Mayor. He admitted recently to participating in 12-years of budget hearings. Add to that current Mayor Susan Holechecks admission to the Friends of the Founding Fathers and the Tea Party of Mesquite that when times were limited people took their eyes off the ball. Holecheck, who want's to retain her seat, was talking about employees union contracts.
Then comes Tim Hacker, the City Manager, who tried to defend to the Friends and Tea Partiers that the city actually planned for deficits. Now that sounded sensible until he admitted that they planned to spend more than projected revenue supported. Of course that's a crazy approach to budgeting. A budget is a planning document that tells staff and employees what resources they have in order to deliver a level of services. If the budget is inflated it leads staff to believe they have resources they do not have, which leads to overspending on accounts. Which is exactly what happened.
A lot of well meaning people are suggesting to the Mayor and Council whose Ox to gore and which to save. Unfortunately, it's an exercise in fatality. The city will not have enough operating revenue to continue its current level of services without either continuing to sell capital assets, cutting employees, raising taxes, calling for bond elections, or attempting to capitalize on federal reinvestment funds (if any are available). Maybe all of the above.
In actual practice rationalizing revenue with expenditures will require a completely different approach to budgeting then currently in practice. Unfortunately, if the mayor, council and the city manager had the ability to change, the city would not be facing its current economic situation.
There are several reasons for doubting improvements in budget governance. First, it appears that the mayor, as chief executive, has not collaborated with the council to set in place an appropriate economic policy to deal with the current situation. If they had, the city would not be facing the current situation.
Second, it appears that the city manager has not established an appropriate execution strategy to carryout a sound economic policy. Had the city manager provided such a strategy it is likely that the mayor and the council would have followed. Had this been done, the city would not be facing the current situation.
This proper linkage between politicians setting policy and the manager setting a methodology and implementing is critical to a smooth operating city government.
The current fiscal problems are not new and go back several budget cycles with Bennett, admittedly, listening to the same old things but apparently doing nothing to change except to purchase or annex unnecessary land. The Mayor, admittedly knew that labor negotiations needed attention, but nothing substantial was done to avoid the upcoming problems of higher salaries against limited revenues. Finally, the city manager saw the problem but, admittedly, set a budget with spending in excess of projected revenue
Being an elected officials is not about pomp and circumstance. It's not about personalities or friendships. It is about paying attention to executive details and creating economic opportunities imbedded in a sound approach to fiscal governance.
When failure is obvious, it time for a change. It's been said before: nsanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

Michael M. McGreer writes on public policy. His recent book: No Harm, No Foul, Bioterrorism in the 21st century is currently available on Amazon.