5 Million Questions
Part of the reason Lisa Wong was elected mayor last year was to tackle the city's budget mess. Facing a $5 million deficit next year will put that to the test right away.
City councilors are already preparing for a brutal budget season. Wong has been pretty public about delivering info to the councilors, but none of the news is good. The council seems to be somewhat content to sit back and wait and see what she does, which makes political sense, because Wong is going to be making some unpopular decisions pretty soon.
The $5 million hole is on the government side, and doesn't include the School Department. So you're looking at over 10 percent of the city's budget being cut. There's already a hiring freeze in place, but chances are, jobs are likely to go in some departments. Then what?
Interestingly, except for the brutal potholes that don't seem to be filled very quickly this winter, the biggest complaint people have after last year's round of budget cuts is the lack of an animal control officer (although on the school side there has been a drumbeat of concern over class sizes). In short, the last cuts didn't really get to the point where the average resident was seeing a noticable decrease in services (except for the potholes).
Will Wong be able to maintain that illusion in the next budget? That will be one hell of challenge.
The good news for Wong is that she didn't make this situation, she's inheriting it, and even Wong detractors recognize that. She's still figuring out what's going to happen, but she has about six weeks before the magic May 15 date the council needs the budget. Will she roll some ideas out in advance, in an effort to get ahead of some things, or will she just throw it out at once and deal with it in one shot?
At the same time, it seems obvious that fee increases are coming. How does that go over at the same point as big budget cuts?
The last few budget seasons have been nightmares, as the mayor and council warred and items like the trash fee proposal were awkwardly proposed. This budget season will be as much about packaging, public relations and messaging as it will be about numbers. If Wong can get through June without getting ripped by councilors (which might be difficult, a few are already starching her out on other issues. Some battle lines are developing), that might be her best trick yet.