When we began, the Menino administration described the city’s fiscal picture in bleak terms. We were told it was an extraordinary year which called for extraordinary measures.
But what we got was anything but. The Menino administration could have used this crisis as an opportunity to create fundamental changes that would move our city into the 21st Century.
Instead, we got the following:
* Major reports over decades have shown how we could be saving millions of dollars each year by overhauling the fire department. But in the era of 911, we didn’t even discuss eliminating obsolete, antiquated fire alarm boxes worth $3 million a year.
* The Menino administration could have finally dealt with unsustainable personnel costs, including out-of-control overtime budgets. They didn’t.
* Did we finally take even one small step towards performance-based management or instituting 311 for better city services, or Zip Car technology to manage our fleet? No, the city barely shares their performance statistics, much less make decisions based on performance.
* How about billions of dollars in real estate and land controlled by the Mayor through the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA)? This should have been the year to finally examine the contents of this black box to generate real economic development for our city. But it didn’t happen. My questions were met with hand-waving and silence.
Despite all of this, Tom Menino will be proudly proclaiming victory, saying, “Core services have been preserved and so have jobs. We didn’t close a single library or community center.”
He’s expecting applause for meeting low expectations. But that is not good enough.
Seattle built four libraries and expanded 22 while we barely maintained our branches. Chicago is expanding their library services, re-defining them as community centers while Boston community centers were under attack in our budget. New York City’s public schools have become a national model through the expansion of Charter Schools and innovative thinking, while Boston has 55 failing public schools with thousands of children depending on them for their education everyday.
Philadelphia’s Mayor, together with the Project for Civic Engagement, held open budget meetings with thousands of participants, while Boston is still stuck trading favors for votes inside City Hall.
How to create a better budget
Budgets should reflect our values – our collective goals as taxpayers and citizens. We’re not even close to being there.
Here is what I will do as Mayor to fix it:
1. Open up the budget process
That begins by scheduling budget hearings before a budget is drawn up and advertising the hearings widely. We need to ensure an engaged, informed citizenry participates in the process.
2. Restore checks and balances
The budget is supposed to be the City Council’s most important power, but it has become a rubber stamp. As Mayor, I will hold a day-long budget retreat with the City Council and the public before the budget is drafted to ensure their valuable input is meaningfully incorporated into the budget.
3. Bring development dollars back to the budget
Right now, the Boston Redevelopment Authority controls billions of dollars in real estate and land and not a penny of it is accounted for in the city’s budget. As Mayor, I will establish a fully accountable city agency for planning and development to ensure those dollars fund our schools, roads and parks.
4. Establish Transparency 2.0
Boston deserves a one-click searchable online budget. Citizens should be able to find detailed information about tax breaks, government contracts, and spending on a single website. Performance measures will be fully reported and department heads will make data informed decisions.
In my two terms on the City Council, I have rejected the Mayor’s budget because of misplaced spending priorities and an extremely closed and political process. And tomorrow I will do so again.
But I know that what we need to fix it is not a back room deal. We need a new way of doing business, a new budget process where your priorities are reflected and your voices are heard.
It is one of the most important reasons I am running for Mayor – to change the way we do business around our most important responsibility: spending your hard-earned tax dollars.
*Cross-posted on Samyoon.com