THE STATE BUDGET: WHAT IS THE CITY MESSAGE?
Preliminary analysis of the proposed House and Senate budgets makes one thing clear: what little money cities currently get from the state may be dramatically cut. (See article elsewhere in the issue for details.) And those cuts may get worse as the budget process proceeds.
So what should city officials do now? Most importantly, we must keep perspective. In the best of all worlds, the budget-writers would have left cities untouched. But these are extraordinary times, and the state’s budget deficit is so vast that it is a virtual certainty that cities will face funding cuts. Far worse, however, would be legislation that requires cities to maintain current service levels in the state programs that are being cut (unfunded mandates), or that would limit the ability of cities to fund such vital services as police, fire, streets, and trash collection (artificial revenue restrictions).
The vast majority of our efforts must be to prevent these mandates and/or revenue restrictions. This doesn’t mean that city officials shouldn’t speak out against the proposed cuts; they should. But it also means that in exchange for taking our share of cuts (cuts that are but a drop in the bucket compared to those faced by schools and many state agencies), cities should insist that they be allowed to handle those cuts as they deem necessary and continue to provide essential services as each community sees fit. We must, in other words, preserve local control. Local control is more important than state funding; it always has been, and must always be.