Saturday, December 20, 2008

More On The City's Budget: Part I

Earlier this week, I posted briefly on the disastrous City Council budget and was criticized as "anti-intellectual." So let's see if some expanded remarks can make my problems clearer (and less dumb).

The Cincinnati budget is a magnificent error for two classes of reasons: procedural and substantive. Let's deal with each in turn.

1. The Budget Process Was Flawed.
On Wednesday, City Council passed a budget by a 7-2 margin. Following that vote, suddenly an "amended" budget was offered, and passed by a 5-4 vote. The new budget contained an extra million dollars in spending.

If you're interested in how the budget was passed, it's worth your time to pull up the podcast of the 6:00 hour of Brian Thomas's Thursday radio show. Go to about 21:30, where Councilmember Leslie Ghiz calls in and discusses the shenanigans pulled by John Cranley and Laketa Cole. Apparently, Cole's personal Christmas plans conflict with the City's budget process, so (of course) City residents take a back seat while Cole goes on vacation. Nonetheless, she signed the motion to pass the original budget when she returned. But behind closed doors, a group of Councilmembers, led by Cole (who had objections she failed to previously disclose) and Cranley got together and made plans to introduce the final budget.

What all this meant was that seemingly endless budget discussions--that took place publicly, in Finance Committee meetings--meant nothing. Everything was actually decided behind closed doors. In an era when the public is clamoring for transparency in government, a majority of our Council shut out the public. Worst of all? The five-member majority that passed the final budget refused to allow debate about it. After some initial criticisms by Jeff Berding, Laketa Cole made a cloture motion. So the City budget for the next two years was passed without being vetted in the Finance Committee and without public debate.

It's a tough day for me when Alex Triantafilou lights up Democrats on his blog and I have nothing to say in response. (In fact, on Thursday, he and I wrote largely the same thing.) I suppose I could point out that the budget wasn't passed by "five Democrats" but by four Democrats and a Charterite, as Qualls, whatever her affiliation in the past, is on Council as a Charterite, not a Democrat. It's hollow criticism, since we all know Charterites are just Democrats who think it's easier to win in Hamilton County if they don't call themselves Democrats. And we should keep in mind that Jeff Berding and Chris Bortz (a Dem d/b/a a Charterite) opposed the budget boondoggle.

Next post: the substantive problems with the budget.

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