On Mayor Annise Parker’s campaign website (see here), you can see if you can balance the budget and find the $130 million deficit. The tool cost $5,000 to make, but no tax dollars were used, so I have no problem with it. In fact, it’s actually pretty fun if you love city government like I do! Sure it can be simple if you get rid of agencies or significantly cut their funding, but we all know that city council won’t be able to do that. Then it becomes a little more difficult, especially when you realize that you really have no idea how much is too much to cut.
This program breaks down the budget into categories by agencies, and that is very similar to how the real city budget looks. When you have an agency like the Public Works and Engineering – Real Estate Division (this includes administration, planning, maintenance, construction management and technical engineering of the city’s infrastructure), how do you really know how much maintenance costs each year (or how much it should cost)? The problem is that not many people do know the answer. Sure, you could cut 100,000 from its $1,319,000 budget, but is that too much? Too little? Cutting across the board isn’t prudent either because there are some agencies that do much better with their budgets than others.
These are issues that city council members have as well. They see the budget broken down smaller than this program shows, but until they can break down the budget into even more specific pieces, it will always be difficult to balance it efficiently. While we have directors that are supposed to properly manage the budget for the agency to which they are assigned, if they can get more money out of the budget for their agency, they will. So we need council members to oversee the tax dollars. If I was on city council, I would want to know how much money each agency spends on paper clips before voting on the budget for that agency.