Monday, January 26, 2009

My statement about the budget

Dear Council:

Thank you for holding this hearing today. With the economy in a downturn, many people are concerned with how our valuable tax dollars are being spent.

First of all, I would like to assure all of the police officers and teachers in the City of Boston that there is more than enough money in the budget to retain your important jobs, if the proper financial decisions are made by our elected leaders.

I am here to ask for more honesty and transparency from City Hall on the budget. We have heard the number of $140 million deficit thrown around by the Mayor, but he refuses to disclose what adds up to $140 million, and he uses the scare tactic of threatening to lay off police and teachers to try and increase taxes. I applaud and support the members of the council who have stepped up and said there will be no cuts to police or teachers. This is an honest response.

Shame on City Hall for scaring schoolchildren and parents and the people on our streets by floating the idea that teachers and police officers need to be laid off. We need honesty and fiscal responsibility about the budget.

Also remember this is a budget shortfall for a proposed budget that is 6.25% larger than the one we are in right now. Why do we need to increase the budget 6.25 percent a year, when the cost of living only goes up approximately 3 percent a year? The price of gas, labor and other goods is down, why do we have to keep paying more?

In the last 5 years City Hall has grown the number of city employees by 7 percent or about 1200 workers. Of those, only about 200 are police officers and 75 are teachers. Surely, no one is more important than them, why aren’t we talking about laying off the other 925 non-essential workers the city lived with 4 years ago first before threatening our first responders and children’s educators. In addition, the city council has increased its central staff by 8.5% in just the last two years.

We need more fiscal responsibility. When the Fiscal Year 2010 budget came out last July it already had a projected deficit of 33 million dollars. What did the Mayor and City Council do in response to this looming crisis, while the rest of America was tightening its belt? The City Council held a hearing attended to by only two members where they suggested raises for all city council staff. That passed the full council without objection. The Mayor in the fall gave raises to all of his department heads, then made the raises retroactive 10 months, effectively giving them bonuses. This is not the type of fiscal responsibility we need in the face of a budget deficit.

The question must be asked: Why did City Hall give the right to the parking revenues from our Winthrop Square garage to the BRA, and why does the BRA's RFP for the redevelopment of the site state that the BRA will be the landlord collecting the rent on the land -- when the City could, and should, simply sell it to collect over $100 million, and then receive annual tax income or collect the land rent for our City budget?

I applaud the City Council talking about one of my big concerns: transparency. However, 11 days ago I wrote to Councilor Ross and requested financial data. No reply whatsoever, even though it is required by law within 10 days. Talking about transparency and actually working towards transparency are two different things.

I’d like to end with one example. Two years ago the City Council added a full time position to its staff to hire Paul Walkowski. The City Council hired Mr. Walkowski to write a long report about how the City Council could get around transparency or exempt itself from the Open Meeting Law. The City has now payed him over $100,000 for his ideas on this matter

If any teacher or police officer gets laid off, or any cut gets made to education funding, call your Mayor and City Councilor and ask them what are we paying Paul Walkowski to do and how is that more important than keeping our streets safe and our children being educated. I understand Mr. Walkowski is going to retire soon, we need to change the City Law back to the way it was before the Mayor and Council amended the law to add this position and save the taxpayers the salary and perks that go with this useless job.

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