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July 9, 2011

31

Here we go again, doom and gloom budgeting

by Deena Winter


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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31 Comments Post a comment
  1. Carol
    Jul 9 2011

    this is the oldest story in the book! When the schools want money it is for the kids, when we want money for the city budget pull the rug out on families and the elderly. They need to cut mayoral aide positions!

    Reply
  2. Jeff Poley
    Jul 9 2011

    Deena:

    When I first came to Lincoln, Pat Boyles was mayor and the “O” Street Gang ran the city. A lot has changed since then. Chris Beutler is mayor and LIBA runs the city. I know I should be surprised and shocked that this mayor behaves like a politician and attempts to spin what comes out of city hall but I’m not surprised since I imagine that Lincoln’s elected officials have has been behaving this way since 1867.

    As far as the wisdom of getting out in front of the crowd and advocating a tax hike is concerned, maybe we should consult with the last guy that did that, former President of the United States, Walter Mondale.

    Jeff…

    Reply
  3. Buzz Murphy
    Jul 9 2011

    I agree with Carol. Let the mayor dispense with half of his staff and some of his expensive spending habits like, roundabouts, arenas, golf course clubhouses, Experian building, etc.

    Reply
  4. fedwayup
    Jul 9 2011

    I agree with Carol also. The city hires out side sources to do jobs that the city already pays individuals to do! Why is this? Kermit Brashear! Didn’t the city spend like 40,000 dollars on the budget poll? I thought the city had computer specialist. I thought that I also read that the mayor has twice as many aides as the previous mayor! Is this true? Why don’t we hold the mayors office accountable for the waste? If we, the citizens actually knew the total waste of taxpayer monies, we would be shocked! When ever the budget comes out, it’s always at the public’s expense. You will never see the mayor sacrifice all the over staffing that has been created over the years! I hear people complain about the wheel tax here in Lincoln all the time, including myself, where is that money going? Obviously, not the streets! How much money does the wheel tax generate a year? Why do we have the worst streets in the United States? Is the wheel tax money being appropriated properly? I’m still waiting for the transparency! We can’t afford the star city parade, but we can afford the experian building and a new arena! We can’t afford to fix our streets but we have the money to create new director positions! Maybe, we should stop creating more and more positions for management and hire more laborers to work on our riddled streets!

    Reply
    • Dan Bretta
      Jul 9 2011

      Worst streets in the US?? Ever driven around Omaha? Their streets are ten times worse than ours…and I see plenty of street work going on in Lincoln…you can’t drive half a mile without running into it.

      Reply
      • Rick H.
        Jul 10 2011

        YES! the worst streets in the US. This is why UPS is testing the duribility design of thier new delivery trucks in Lincoln… FACT!

      • Dan Bretta
        Jul 10 2011

        Talk about hyperbole…The last time I was in Flint, Michigan they had weeds growing in the streets. Lincoln is far from the worst streets in the US. Now if we’re talking about worst drivers I’d agree with you.

  5. pirgirl
    Jul 9 2011

    Carol – couldn’t have said it better. When I see all the hot button issues punched, I ALWAYS wonder what’s going on in the other areas of the budget. As someone who lives near a major high school, I have personally seen more money wasted – well, it makes me ill. If the money went to school materials, etc. different story.

    Reply
  6. doc
    Jul 9 2011

    I agree Carol, cut the mayors office down to bare bones. Clean out some of the politicians and we will all see the savings! Right now we have an over staffed office finding more ways to spend money!

    Reply
  7. Roger Yant
    Jul 10 2011

    First get rid of Dave Landis, then go down to Dan Marvins office, there is $75,000 a year, that would be a start! Then you go through each office and say 10% of you will be out of here in 30 days, they are top heavy on upper management, $11 million dollar round-abouts, $1.5 million for a new golf club house, $6 million for old Experian building, new jail, $60 million, new arena, $400 million, Antelope Valley $350 million, loss of state fair $30 million less in revenue for small businesses and loss of taxes on that $30 million in Lincoln, then last but not least bring in the State Auditor to do an actual audit of the city.

    Reply
    • Carol
      Jul 10 2011

      there is the savings Roger!!!

      Reply
    • porcupine
      Jul 13 2011

      That good to know.

      Reply
  8. Carol
    Jul 10 2011

    Deena, Can you find out how many mayoral aides there are and what their duties are? Find out the salries too!!!

    Reply
  9. Jul 11 2011

    You are such a moral coward and a hypocrite, Deena. I didn’t hear one honest solution from you to the city’s long term financial problems during your failed campaign for the city council. The budget Mayor Beutler has presented addresses Lincoln’s financial situation in a mature and responsible manner. Anyone can disagree with the specifics, and the system has been designed so citizens now have ample opportunity to make their voices heard. Just remember that when you had the opportunity to be something more than a bitter blogger and the queen of Lincoln’s malcontents, you chose to play the same games as any politician and simply weren’t very good at them. Beutler kept his promise to voters throughout his first term, and you’ve ridiculed him for it. He EARNED the trust of our city to win a 2nd term. For keeping faith with that trust, you’ll no doubt look for ways to ridicule him again. A few 2nd rate dittoheads may appreciate your act, but the rest of us aren’t fooled.

    Reply
    • Jul 11 2011

      Moral coward and hypocrite? Big words, Kyle. Ever heard of “show, don’t tell”?
      You obviously weren’t listening very closely if you didn’t hear the four proposals I put forth to deal with continual budget deficits, chiefly the dissolution of the RTSD, freeing up $4 million in tax revenue annually for more important city needs. I’d argue that’s more creative thinking than anything we’ve seen out of Beutler in four years.
      Beutler ran for mayor FIVE years ago promising to fix the city’s “structurally imbalanced budget.” And yet the budget gap has widened to a record-breaking whopping $9.3 million this year, Kyle. You call that delivering on promises? He promised to fix the budget, he didn’t do it, couldn’t do it, wouldn’t do it. Now he’s actually trying — we’ll see if he follows through this time.
      I “played the same games as any politician” ? You mean when I refused to run as a R or D because it’s supposed to be a nonpartisan council, or do you mean when I refused to take money from PACs, unions or corporations or anybody but ACTUAL PEOPLE? You’re right, that was really politics as usual…. I spent $1,700 while the others spent about $10,000 and I nearly beat the Republican… but I guess it’s easier to name-call than rely on facts, huh Kyle?

      Reply
  10. ej
    Jul 11 2011

    Talk about your PR spin! “EARNED the trust of our city to win a 2nd term.” Yeah right. He won by default.

    Reply
  11. Commenter
    Jul 11 2011

    Deena, the budget ideas you presented shifted money out of some “important” areas (libraries, public health, railroad safety) and into other “important” areas. They did nothing to address the structural problems that you point out.

    Reply
    • Jul 14 2011

      My proposals all pertained to money that professional auditors said was sitting in accounts, accumulating to levels higher than they needed to be. The City Council chose not to take action on the very audit they bought and paid for.

      Reply
  12. J. Brown
    Jul 11 2011

    Kyle, why don’t you and Jane Kleeb get together and find some more ways to afferm the big spin, if you cannot, just ask the mayor or Rick H. or the big cheese BHO. 44 years I have been a Demo! Next year I too will be a independent. god help us all.

    Reply
  13. fedwayup
    Jul 11 2011

    I personally think Deena should have ran for mayor! I think if she would have, we wouldn’t be listening to the same old scare tactics now! I have to agree with ej, default. I am curious also about how many mayoral aides Beutler harbors! I have heard twice as many as the previous mayor, but don’t know if that is an exaggeration or fact. Is there a way Deena, you could find out the information Carol had asked about?

    Reply
    • Jul 11 2011

      Carol and fedwayup: I do not believe that it’s true that Beutler has twice as many aides as the previous mayors. He has Rick Hoppe, Trish Owen, Denise Pearce (although I’m not sure if she’s still there) and the only new position I’m aware of is Milo Mumgaard, and he’s paid for with federal stimulus money. I’ve heard he has more staffers in the mayor’s office, but I recall looking into that allegation a long time ago and couldn’t substantiate it. It may be more than his predecessor, but not grossly more, to my knowledge.

      Reply
  14. Buzz Murphy
    Jul 11 2011

    Kyle, read the comment by Roger Yant. Do you understand any of those numbers, they are huge, it would more than take care of the deficit. I will vote for Deena for mayor in the next election.

    Reply
  15. fedwayup
    Jul 11 2011

    Thank you Deena, maybe the people i was talking to were including directors also. I think there are three positions that i can think of that didn’t exist 5 years ago, antelope valley project manager, arena project manager, safety director, Kermit Brashear.

    Reply
  16. JoAnn Murphy
    Jul 11 2011

    How can we add Antelope Valley & Union Park while proposing a closure of city parks? If the city can’t maintain current parks, why add more? Why send fire trucks to medical emergencies? Why not smaller EMT vehicles? Why not cut all city government offices back 1/2 or 1 full day a week for the time it takes to get back on a better financial track? How about eliminating car allowances, clothing allowances, dues to clubs/organizations for some officials? Let’s have the police share cars rather than having so many sitting parked. How can we add a new office for the mayor and cut swimming pool services for youth? Surely the city is going to be gaining the rent paid by Lincoln Public Schools for the Experian Building. Now we are told the wheel tax might increase $10.00 — to be used for street maintenance. Where has the wheel tax been used in the past? Not for streets. Have some of those funds been diverted to other uses? Given the current economic climate, we need to focus on maintaining what we have, repairing what needs to be repaired, not expanding the core of the city downtown which profits only a few business people. We can do that later. In a family budget, if money is short, one does not buy a Lexus because it will look good to others, but repairs the current vehicle if it’s fixable. Families focus on necessities, not wants. No amount of rationalization about how we must fulfill future needs, will take care of the more pressing basic needs of the city. The city can surely fulfill it’s wish list in a couple of years after this economic crisis turns around. Roger Yant just informed us about the tip of the iceburg. What can be found if more details are unearthed?

    Reply
  17. doc
    Jul 12 2011

    It seems to me that its business as usual at city hall! It’s hard to choke down, when you hear these politicians on tv, or in the paper saying they care about our best interest. Maybe, the citizens need to form a watchdog group to watch city hall! I would like to nominate Roger Yant as president. We need someone looking out for our best interest, watching the people who are supposed to be watching out for our best interest. I know, that is supposed to be our city councilmen. Like i said, we should form a watchdog group to watch city hall!

    Reply
    • Jul 13 2011

      Actually, a “watchdog group” recently was formed and is doing just that. I think it’s fair to say a lot of the members were part of the No2Arena group, but maybe some of the members will correct me if I’m wrong about that. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to blog about them one of these days. They meet about once a month and are called the Watchdogs of Lincoln Government (I believe). If you want more information, I can give you an email contact or something.

      Reply
      • fedwayup
        Jul 13 2011

        I am very interested Deena, thank you. More information would be great!

      • Jul 13 2011

        Is the email you registered your actual email? if so, I’ll email you a contact.

      • Jul 14 2011

        I sent you an email.

  18. Betty Lee
    Jul 12 2011

    I second your nomination doc!

    Reply
  19. doc
    Jul 13 2011

    Is there any chance of this watchdog group infiltrating the good ol boys club at city hall? Coby tried, and they didn’t like it! I really enjoy the drive time with Coby and hope he doesn’t give up.

    Reply

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