February 07, 2004
That'll take the edge off of any lingering Super Bowl euphoria

Say this for Mayor White: he knows when a party's over and it's time to get back to work.

Mayor Bill White held out the prospect of employee layoffs Friday as he acknowledged that the projected budget gap for the coming fiscal year is twice as large as his predecessor's most dire forecast.

While Lee Brown's administration projected a $74 million shortfall for fiscal year 2005, which begins on July 1, White said he expects the gap to be more than $150 million because of several major -- and unavoidable -- expenses that are coming due.

In addition to considering layoffs, White said the city also might chip away at the huge deficit by selling some of its real estate.

He added, however, that there are some austerity measures he will not consider, including a property tax increase and pay cuts or furloughs for city employees.

"I've tried to get the most realistic idea of where we would be if it was more or less business as usual," White said, "and we've found that business as usual is unacceptable.

"The magnitude of the problem is greater than many people may appreciate," said the mayor, who took office five weeks ago Friday. "I'm confident we will solve the problem, but that will require getting at the root causes of some of these cost drivers."

Those "drivers" include a $40 million increase in the cost of employee health care benefits, a $50 million police pay raise that takes effect in April and a $60 million increase in the city's total contribution to the municipal, police and fire pension systems.

I'm not going to bother delving into the particulars of all this, for it's the sort of thing that Beldar calls MEGO (my eyes glaze over) stuff. Instead, there are two points of interest from this story that I want to note.

One is that this is exactly the sort of problem White said he was best qualified to fix. His platform was about competence, ability to make tough decisions, and fiscal responsibility. He's about to get a chance to show what he can do. The problems aren't of his making, but the promises of recovery are. Succeed, and he'll be bigger than Bob Lanier. Stumble, and the next two years will be cover-your-eyes ugly.

Note also that no one from the City Council, not even Michael "Find me an office and I'll run for it" Berry, was quoted in this article. Maybe they'd all gone home early, maybe no one had anything of interest to say, maybe they were all simultaneously struck mute, I don't know. What I suspect is that all of them, especially those with near-future interest in higher office, are going to wait and see what White proposes before saying anything commital. We're about to see how long that honeymoon White is on really will last.

Obviously, I'm rooting for the Mayor. I voted for him, I like him, and I believe he will do a good job. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't holding my breath a little right about now.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 07, 2004 to Local politics | TrackBack