Sign up for our newsletters    

Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home page.

Crowdsourcing the Budget Cuts

January 6, 2012
By

The money comes, the money goes

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s people sent word of a nifty interactive city budget tool this morning in which you, the citizen, are asked to make the hard choices facing the mayor in the coming fiscal year.

The link is here,  and it’s not promising, with two pie charts showing where the city gets its money (about half comes from property taxes; only 2 percent from fines and such) and how it spends it (36 percent on Safer Streets; 6.8 percent on Stronger Neighborhoods).

Huh?

What does “safer streets” mean in terms of actual budget line items—police, fire? What else?

What does the 4.4 percent spent on “innovative government” mean?

A call to SRB’s spokesman Ryan O’Doherty was not immediately returned.

The front page is a little silly, but clicking through to the actual budget choices puts one face to face with the kinds of decisions Chris Thomaskutty et al. are paid to force elected leaders to make.* Should we freeze the pay of all but the lowest-paid city employees again this year, saving $9 million (in government-speak, “freeze” still allows for a 2 percent “cost of living” increase)? We could eliminate the police department’s marine unit and save $1 million, and/or freeze cop hiring for another $13 million in potential savings.

One would have to pick about three-quarters of the available cuts to get rid of the projected $52 million budget shortfall. And that’s before making any decisions about, maybe, expanding or improving any city services. Want to restore some tree planning and maintenance? That’ll be $1.5 million; cut something else. It’s daunting, but worth thinking about whether there might be other options.

The mayor’s crowd-source budget tool leaves room for suggestions other than those offered. To get an idea about what those might be, here is the place where you can have a look at the actual budget, with meaningful information about how much money the city allocates to the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Bureau of Code Enforcement instead of vague categories like “stronger neighborhoods.” That making sense of this is a hard job for dedicated people will be clear enough then. The summary alone runs 320 pages.

*Deputy Mayor Thomaskutty’s name is nowhere here and there’s a big disclaimer up front: “This Budget Exercise is for illustrative purposes only and individual budget options are not necessarily under consideration by the Rawlings-Blake administration.”