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May 16, 2006 > Editorial: Budget on my mind

Editorial: Budget on my mind

Other arms reach out to me
Other eyes smile tenderly
Still in peaceful dreams I see
The road leads back to you

Georgia, sweet Georgia, no peace I find
Just an old sweet song
Keeps Georgia on my mind

Most of you will recall these stanzas from a song that has been recorded by a wide array of musicians and performing artists. Written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell in 1930, Ray Charles made "Georgia On My Mind" famous world-wide. Whether about the state of Georgia - Charles' birth state, a woman named Georgia - Carmichael had a sister named Georgia, or the country of Georgia on the Black Sea where Carmichael was born, the haunting lyrics not only envelop the senses, but also share similarities with city quarterly budget reviews. And why not, Gorrell's "day job" was as a New York City banker!

Whether a pessimistic "Bear" or optimistic "Bull," city budgets are a continuing song that reflect the economic landscape and allow some prediction of future paths. Our cities have not only had to contend with local economic issues - "the road leads back to you," but "other eyes smile tenderly" while they "reach out" from Sacramento in complicated schemes including tactics called a "triple flip" and "loan." For the past several years, the State of California has been pleading poverty in order to usurp money from counties, cities and schools who, post pilfering, have been left to fend for themselves.

A recent announcement from the governor's office of a tax windfall of $7.5 billion, has led to a spending plan in the 2006-07 fiscal year projected at $13.8 billion, close to a 12 percent increase from the current year. According to the new plan, funding for education will increase, debt will be decreased and money will be tucked away in reserves. In a report by the Associated Press, Governor Schwarzenegger said that the State's rebounding economy increased ``beyond all projections.'' Even with the rosy forecast, the budget continues a "structural deficit," meaning it spends more money than it will collect. The question remains, where will this money come from?

Sacramento politicians have reached into the pockets of an unwilling target - municipalities and publicly funded organizations - to counter California's budget deficit. It is clear that unrestrained spending, at whatever level, has its limits and these had not only been reached, but exceeded as a booming California economy turned sour. Politician fingers, past and present, have pointed every way except at themselves during this painful fiscal period. However, as the beginning of a recovery hovers on the horizon, hopefully, most citizens of whatever political stripe will hold their local and state politicians to a road of financial responsibility without allowing those fingers to venture too much farther into their own pockets.

Santa Clara County, the home of Silicon Valley, has proposed Measure A, a general sales tax increase with provisions of an oversight committee and a sunset clause after 30 years. Will voters in this hard-hit area go back to the "tax and spend" politics of the past? You can bet that many politico eyes are watching. As city budgets unfold, it will be interesting to listen to explanations of how well or poorly each is doing.

There is no question of budget shortages, but what has each city done about it and how will future funds be used? Will taxpayers be asked for more as money is put into reserves while deficit spending continues? Unless there are controls or specific objectives for new funds, why should we approve of and initiate another spending glut? Isn't it reasonable for us, the owners, to carefully examine any request for additional funds from our civic employees? What "sweet song" will be sung into our ears next?

Just an old sweet song,
Keeps Georgia on my mind

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