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Here we go again, doom and gloom budgeting

It’s time for that annual tradition again: No, not the fireworks. Not the summer vacation. Not even grilling dogs.

It’s summertime in Lincoln so that can only mean one thing: It’s time to do the budget dance. Here’s how it goes: Mayor Chris Beutler knows Lincoln needs to raise property taxes to balance its budget. But he is a career politician and kind of wants to hold onto this gig as mayor, so he’s afraid to propose much more than a meager tax increase. So his PR machine gets tuned up and starts dribbling out stories about how the city is polling people to see what they’d cut to balance the budget, stories about how many police officers and firefighters would have to be laid off to balance the budget, stories (like the one today) about how if they cut the aging department any more, elderly people will go without valuable services.

By the way, that aging story is interesting in that it doesn’t even say whether the mayor plans to make the $330,000 cut that is the crux of the story. So who is the aging director arguing with? It’s a story about some phantom entity that might cut 300K out of her budget. What?

What’s really happening is we’re being spun by the mayor again. Who’s threatening to cut the money? The mayor. The aging director’s boss, in essence. So what’s the point of the story? The point is to soften you up and make you realize how important and crucial it is that the mayor bring in more revenue (ie: raise taxes) to pay for such crucial programs. And what better group to get on your side than seniors?

From my perspective, programs that help seniors keep living in their homes are worth the money when the alternative is to move into a nursing home and (often have the government) pay thousands of dollars per month. Why wouldn’t you invest a little money to help Grandma stay home, where she usually wants to be?

However, I’m tired of this song and dance where the media is manipulated by the mayor into writing story after story about how pools might close, libraries might close, fire stations might close, and elderly people might go without if we don’t do… something.

C’mon, Beutler. This is year five of this charade. We all know you’re not really going to close all those pools and libraries. You might threaten to do it — but as soon as people start protesting, you run away saying, “I didn’t mean it!” Last time Beutler proposed closing the South branch library, a bunch of neighborhood kids organized opposition and the mayor relented. He relented with quite the fanfare — by holding a press conference in the library with some of the kids and his Democratic colleague, Councilman Jonathan Cook — so then Beutler and Cook get to play the savior. And Cook got to say in his campaign materials that he “saved the library.” Hmmmm… seems a bit staged to me.

To be sure, the city does have a whopper of a budget deficit to close this year — $9.3 million, which is about 7 percent of the city’s operating budget. Maybe they really have run out of magic pots of gold to raid.

Just once, I’d like to see Beutler stop the spin machine, stand up and say, “Lincoln, here’s what we need to do, and I’m gonna do it because it’s the right thing to do.” Whether that means raising the levy or seriously cutting spending — choose your weapon — let’s just dispense with all the ridiculous charades that surround city budgeting every year.

And by the way, when is the Journal Star going to start paying this much attention to a budget that costs taxpayers FOUR TIMES as much as city services? The school district’s. And the county budget takes about the same amount of taxes out of your pocket as the city, but you don’t see nearly the number of stories about that budget (although this year has been bettter, since they have a big budget gap, too).

Every year, the city budget gets banner headlines, multiple stories, saturation coverage — while the LPS budget merits just a few, small stories. Hardly anybody even shows up for the school district budget meetings, while city hall is often bulging with protesters, largely because the paper has trumpeted those “possible” cuts.

It’s a vicious cycle. It’s a spin cycle. I say we get off.

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