In a refreshing turn of events, the City Council will begin this year’s budget discussions on January 12th (PDF), instead of in mid-May, like last time. The budget office has produced a five year financial forecast (PDF) for discussion at the meeting, and it’s…well, it’s grim. Grim, like, a forecasted $50.3 million deficit for FY09-10, $57.8 million for FY10-11, $112.5 million in FY11-12, $107.8 million in FY12-13, and $101.8 million in FY13-14.
I’m sure Dellums is relieved that he’s not going to be around to have to deal with the really nasty mess starting in 2011. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with him for this cycle, which means we have to live with his budget balancing strategies, which include just totally giving up on staffing the police department at the levels we’re paying for. He also has apparently finally noticed that Measure Y cannot produce enough revenue to pay for the officers it’s supposed to fund. Too bad we had to go out and spend all the reserves that were supposed to cover the shortfall. Now, unsurprisingly, we’re screwed.
Anyway, the Mayor and the Council are going to have to get together and find a way to cut costs. Strategies mentioned in the forecast included increased employee retirement contributions, medical benefit cost sharing, and additional city closures. Strangely, reduction in the number of City personnel is not mentioned in the document, but that needs to be on the table.
So, in the immediate future, balancing our budget needs to be about reducing spending. But we also need to be thinking about how to deal with our problems in the long term, and there’s no way to do that without talking about increasing revenue. The revenue enhancement ideas listed in the forecast go basically like this: raise fines, raise fees, raise taxes, raise taxes, and raise taxes.
We need – and I’m not saying that budget deliberations are the appropriate forum for this, because I don’t think it is – a serious, long-term strategy for increasing City revenues that does not rely on increasing existing costs to our already overburdened residents and businesses. What can we do to create new sources of revenue? How much can we realistically expect to bring in based on strategy x, y, or z? Where are other cities getting all their money, and how can we emulate that? Why is it that Portland, OR has only about 35% more people than Oakland, lower household and per capita incomes, but their annual budget is like $2.4 billion compared to our $1 billion? How does that happen? And what can we do to make it happen here?
I’m thinking that, for starters, we might want to experiment with not doing our best to drive away industries that we keep saying we want to attract.