Ah, budget battles.
This morning’s Star detailed the back and forth political arguments about whether the Ballard Administration actually made the budget cuts the mayor promised during his campaign. Their independent analysis amounted to: who knows? That’s not a criticism of the reporters–it’s a reflection of the games public managers play.
This actually began back during the Goldsmith Administration. In fact, it could argued that the City’s dicey finances actually began there; I know Ballard blamed Peterson because he inherited significant budget problems, but Peterson himself inherited a true “smoke and mirrors” budget from Goldsmith. (That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have done more to fix it.)
Goldsmith’s clever game was to change the way in which the budget was reported from the relatively straightforward system employed during the Hudnut Administration. When you change budget categories, it becomes virtually impossible to compare apples to apples. (He also touted savings from his own exaggerated “estimated growth” figures–as in “we project that expenditures would have reached X if we hadn’t done Y. What good managers we are!)
In this case, Ballard’s folks excluded federal and other grants and some debt service from the budget calculation, and “voila”–they saved money.
I know I’m talking crazy, but what if we focused less on the relative amounts we spend, and more on what we get for our money? What if we focused less on the tax levy (the total amount raised) and more on how fairly we assess property and set rates? What if we rewarded good management rather than providing incentives to cut corners and push higher maintenance costs to the next guy?
What a dreamer I am…..