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EDITORIAL: Hogsett budget good first step

More revenue needed in long run

August 20, 2016

Who says Democrats can’t cut spending?

Mayor Joe Hogsett’s first city budget goes against common political stereotypes by calling for reduced spending on city services in 2017.

In a time of hyper-polarized politics, it’s refreshing to see any elected official going against the grain. Everyone knows Democrats are big-spending apologists for those who don’t pull their weight and Republicans are penny-pinching ogres who always prioritize the rich over the poor. Hogsett’s budget doesn’t follow that tired narrative and proves once again that partisan divisions aren’t so black and white at the local level.

The hard part, of course, will be delivering on the plan, which is designed to reduce the city’s structural deficit to $23.8 million and eliminate it in three years. The $1.09 billion 2017 budget would spend $12.7 million less than the final 2016 budget proposed by Greg Ballard, Hogsett’s Republican predecessor.

Administrative and executive spending would fall, and less would be spent on debt service, pension obligations and other public services.

Key to the proposal is a pledge to reduce the number of city employees through attrition, which would seem to be a ripe target in a city government with a turnover rate of 20 percent to 25 percent a year.

Another key element, one with long-term implications, is a plan to rein in spending on city pensions. A recent change in state law allows city employees to vest after five years instead of 10. But the city would contribute less money per employee beginning with anyone hired next year.

To chip away at the city’s infrastructure needs, Hogsett would spend $50 million in each of the next four years, a fraction of what is needed to properly maintain the city’s roads, bridges and sidewalks.

The budget would increase funding in an area of biggest concern, public safety. Hogsett calls for increasing public safety spending from $405 million to $413 million, enough to pay for two police recruit classes totaling 86 officers and for two new fire stations. Criminal justice spending would grow from $241 million to $252 million.

While Hogsett delivers what appears to be a responsible plan for getting the city’s financial house in order, the 2017 budget is just a start. Cutting spending and services will take you only so far and can backfire in the long run. To truly put the city on sound financial footing and meet its needs, the Hogsett administration will have to deliver on strategies to raise revenue, primarily by getting more people to locate in Marion County and convincing those already here to stay.

That’s the big challenge. It’ll take political leadership and creativity on both sides, plus the continued support of the private and not-for-profit sectors, to succeed. Proposing a budget that has, so far, been well received by both parties is a small, but encouraging, first step.•

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