So, last night, the City Council had its first special budget workshop of this year’s second round of budget adjustments. The first round took place last spring, and culminated in the Council approving a mid-cycle budget with $15 million in cuts.
Of course, it later turned out that the budget deficit was going to be much larger than expected, which brings us to round two. In the revised budget proposal (PDF) Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums released last Friday, we learn than we are now looking at another $42.8 million hole – $37.4 million from the General Fund, and $5.4 million from the LLAD.
The Council offered little in the way of their own suggestions for closing the gap last night – that will happen on October 10th, at a special daytime budget workshop. (Speaking of which, I am very upset that I will not be able to attend this meeting! I am especially upset because I had arranged the dates for a birthday visit from my mother specifically so I could attend on the originally scheduled date, October 9th, and then they moved the meeting! To be fair, they had a good reason for changing it – it was kind of rude to schedule two big, important special meetings on Jewish high holy days – but still, the new time is inconvenient for me. And since it is being held at the Lakeside Park Garden Center, I’m assuming that means it won’t be recorded and available through KTOP. Annoying! If anyone wants to go and take copious notes and maybe write a guest post about it, they would have my eternal gratitude.)
Anyway, between now and then, the Councilmembers will each submit a bunch of written questions about the budget, the proposed cuts, and so on, for which written answers will be provided at the next meeting. Then they’ll make their own suggestions about how to balance things and probably argue a lot. So last night was just for the Mayor to introduce his budget, the Councilmembers to offer some initial comment, and then let a ton of public speakers complain about the proposed cuts.
Dellums spoke for about 30 minutes about the budget, outlining the process he went through to create it, the reasons for the current deficit, anticipated future budget problems, and the balancing measures he’s proposing. Then he spent like seven minutes complaining about the Wall Street bailout.
I found myself, as usual, annoyed by the Mayor’s presentation. Dellums has a couple of habits that irritate the hell out of me, and I don’t know that they’re necessarily bad on their own, but they just make me, at least, cringe every time I listen to him. The first is just the way he frames City issues. He explains everything like the audience is in kindergarten or something. It’s like, he just discovered that we have impending retirement obligations, or that the discretionary portion of the budget is only a fraction of the total $1 billion, and he needs to run out and let everyone know. Mr. Mayor, please. I realize that this might be news to someone who’s lived in Washington since before I was born, but everyone on the City Council is well aware of budgetary restrictions and our looming obligations. And frankly, it’s somewhat disturbing that they appear to be a brand new revelation to you twenty-one months after you took office, twenty-seven months after you were elected, and thirty-five months after you announced you were running for Mayor of Oakland.
So there’s that. Also, his insistence on deflecting blame. Nothing ever has anything to do with him, or his performance. He’s constantly complaining about all the issues he “inherited.” Which brings me back again to my last problem – he should have known he was going to have to deal with these problems when he ran for Mayor. Ignacio De La Fuente knew. Nancy Nadel knew. Ron Oz knew. Hector Reyna – well, maybe he didn’t know. But part of the deal when you run for office is that you have to accept that you’re going to be shouldering responsibility for existing problems. You don’t get a pass because you didn’t do your homework.
I’m certainly not going to deny that there are some scary long-term systemic issues with respect to Oakland’s finances. But the fact is that in 2006, the year before Dellums took office, we had a budget surplus. And the budget that we’re struggling to close the holes in right now was his budget. I’m not saying the current fiscal situation is all Dellums’s fault – that would be absurd. But it’s equally absurd to pretend that he wasn’t complicit in the game of over overestimating revenues and failing to reign in spending or anticipate future obligations. It’s fine to spread fault around, but only if you’re willing to own your share of it.
Finally, and this is the thing that I really, really just can’t stand, is the way Dellums constantly behaves as if he expects a freaking gold star for just doing his damn job. He rambled for minutes about how he looked at all the different City funds when putting together this proposal, and, you know, I’m glad he did. But on the other hand, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? I mean, all I could think of when he was going on about it was why he didn’t do that when preparing his first two budgets.
So, despite my annoyance, Dellums’s presentation was actually a pretty solid overview of the budget problem, and I highly recommend that people, when they have the time, watch his speech.
So anyway, that brings us to where we are today. We have a $42.8 million shortfall and $10 million in reserve. First, the reserves. They were drawn down from $75 million last year to practically nothing today due to a combination of overspending and less than anticipated revenue. But mostly overspending.
Now, the actual budget. We have a $5.4 million shortfall in the LLAD fund. The LLAD’s had shortfalls for years, and we’ve been using General Fund money to cover them. Obviously, we can’t do that anymore because there’s no money in the General Fund.
The General Fund, as it turns out, is short $37.4 million. Where does that hole come from? Well, first, the two-year budget we approved in 2007, the Mayor’s first budget, approved General Fund expenditures in excess of expected revenues by $6.4 million. That was supposed to be covered by our reserves. Obviously, that’s no longer an option. Then we’re getting $18 million less in revenue than we expected. On top of that, we’re spending $13 million more than we budgeted, almost all on the police.
So, what are we going to do about it? Well, the Mayor proposed to:
- Save $13.6 million by using one-time revenues for fund transfers and a variety of other fund or cost transfers, like shifting General Purpose Fund costs to other funds
- Raise $2.57 million by raising parking meter and ticket fees.
- Cut $1.9 million in non-personnel expenses
- Save $5 million by eliminating vacant positions
- Save $4.4 million by laying off 84 people
If we did all that, we would still have a $10 million hole to fill. The Mayor proposed a number of options for making up those funds in the budget he submitted – more layoffs, shutdown of City services every other week, and increased health cost sharing and retirement contributions from City employees.
So…I think this is really weak. I understand the Mayor wants to have a “collaborative” style of government, but the fact is that government works best when everybody has a clear job to do and does it. The Mayor’s job is to submit a budget. Now, if the Council like doesn’t the cuts he proposes, they’re free to make their own changes and suggest their own balancing measures. But for the City’s executive to just submit to the Council a budget with a significant deficit and basically tell them to work out the rest, well, that’s just a total abdication of responsibility. Part of exercising leadership is being willing to make tough decisions and stand behind them, even if that makes you unpopular. Instead, the Mayor has simply shifted the burden to the Council.
Unsurprisingly, the public comment period of the meeting was quite long, and full of people who don’t like the proposed budget cuts. I don’t really like them much either, and I think the City can do a lot better. Obviously, everyone needs to make sacrifices, but the sacrifices could (and should) be spread out in a way that would be less painful to the citizens. Anyway, I’ll get into that tomorrow.
- 10.17.2008: We’ll be keeping the park rangers after all
- 10.02.2008: What Measure Q? More broken promises from the City of Oakland
- 09.26.2008: Mayor’s new budget proposal now available
- 07.23.2008: Mayor Ron Dellums to review his own budget