Earlier this week, Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer introduced his proposed budget to the Metro Council, for the new fiscal year. The budget contains no direct tax increases (although your municipal water and sewer bills will increase significantly next year, along with parking meter fees and school taxes), and purports to make long-needed and deferred infrastructure investments, including paving roads across Louisville.
The City of Louisville receives over $15 million from gasoline taxes collected by the state government, but usually spends only $2.5 million of this for actual road repairs; the remainder being spent for "sundry purposes." Next fiscal year, Mayor Gregg proposes to increase the portion of the highway taxes spent on road repairs to $6.4 million (although much of this increase will be used to construct bicycle paths). Voters should remember this, the next time a pothole claims one of their hubcaps.
In the first budget year of Fischer's administration, back in May of 2011, the city was faced with a $22.5 million shortfall, and the mayor had to ask non-union employees to take staggered one-week furloughs. No non-union employees got raises that year.
Last fiscal year, the mayor was able to balance the city's budget (as required by state law) by selling off several millions of dollars worth of city-owned real estate, and settling a lawsuit against the Insight Communications cable-tv company for $3.5 million. That year's budget required a lot of municipal belt-tightening.
Earlier this year, the Democrats on Louisville's Metro Council proposed a 20% increase in the city's Insurance Premium Tax--to collect an additional $10 million annually--to be used to construct “affordable housing” for the disadvantaged. The funds would have come from taxes levied upon automobile, real estate, healthcare, and general liability insurance premiums. This would have been a regressive flat tax, with no exemptions for family size or earning capacity.
Primary sponsors of the tax increase proposal included Democrat councilmembers Tina Ward-Pugh, Mary Woolridge, Attica Scott, Brent Ackerson, Rick Blackwell, Madonna Flood, and Tom Owen. The nine Republican members of the council voiced opposition to the plan.
When supporters of the 20% tax increase learned that Kentucky law would not allow the revenue created to be “earmarked” for affordable housing, all but three Metro Councilmen withdrew their support. With only Democrats Ward-Pugh, Scott, and Owen backing the tax, the measure was withdrawn from Council consideration.
But the mayor's new (FY 2014) budget--thanks to an upturn in the local economy, leading to an increase in Occupational Tax revenues--contains enough of a surplus to allow for a few extravagances:
- The city will construct 28 new miles of bike lanes; although no one has suggested that this will appreciably reduce Louisville's traffic problems. Nor will it significantly reduce the sales of gasoline, and, since the gas tax is the major source of road construction and repair funds, it's probably just as well.
- The city will increase its yearly contributions to local community ministries by 21%. Generally speaking, the wall of separation between church and state has been traditionally low in Louisville.
- The budget provides non-union employees a 2 percent cost-of-living raise (union employees raises are set by their union contracts).
- The city will increase the funds available for "emergency" park maintenance from $500,000 to $750,000.
- A new "body scanner" will be purchased for the Community Corrections Center. It is unclear whether this device will be used on employees, as well as inmates.
- Louisville will redesign its website, in part to make it easy to use on smart phones.
- Sensing a need for yet another futuristic "plan," the mayor wants $150,000 for a "25-year Vision Louisville plan." Evidently the mayor's bookcase full of similar plans was destroyed by the recent water pipe burst in his office.
- With no explanation of how Louisville has existed for more than 200 years without employing the services of an Urban Forester and a Director of City Public Art, the mayor wants to create and fund these new positions.
Louisville's poor and sick, on the other hand, will have to make do with what they got last year. The University of Louisville indigent health care fund, known as the Quality Care and Charity Trust, will remain at $7 million, the same level for the past six years.
Even though the mayor's budget allocates $7 million more than anticipated revenues for the fiscal year, it is still technically referred to as "balanced," since expenditures can be slowed down in the event hoped-for revenue increases do not materialize.
“After many years of budgets that required significant cuts, we are finally able to make some investments in basic infrastructure,” Fischer said. “We still have a deficit and we still must watch every dollar we spend, but with an improved economy and increases in revenues we are in a much better position this budget than the past two.”
The Democrats on the Metro Council seemed pretty happy with Mayor Fischer's proposed budget:
- President Jim King (District 10) applauded the mayor's plan, saying, “I applaud the Mayor’s plan." He suggested that the proposed plan for connecting bicycle paths through Old Louisville from downtown to the University, "...will go along to help our environment while providing alternative travel that will cut down on wear and tear of our roads."
- Barbara Shanklin (soon-to-be-impeached representative of District 2) opined, "I think the hiring of an Urban Forester will ensure that all areas of the inner city replace trees where needed to help with green spaces."
- Tom Owen (who rides his bicycle to City Hall from District 8) said, “I think Mayor Fischer’s proposed budget strikes a good balance..."
- Tina Ward-Pugh (District 9) observed, “I am pleased to see paving our infrastructure as atop priority in this budget. Many of our constituents have told u soft hi seed for so long." (We double-checked the Metro Council's press release, and those are Ms. Ward-Pugh's exact words. Whatever.)
Republicans on the Metro Council were less enthusiastic, but generally positive in their remarks concerning Mayor Fischer's proposed budget:
- “As Vice-Chairman of the Metro Council’s Budget Committee, I look forward to reviewing all aspects of the Mayor’s Budget. The Mayor’s process of developing a budget worked with members of the Metro Council reflects much of our shared vision for the community." – Kelly Downard, District 16, Louisville Metro Budget Committee Vice-Chair
- “I look forward to discussing the administration’s plans for adding bike-paths, but will focus my attention to ensure that our paving needs for motorists are met in the priority set by Public Works.” – Jerry Miller, District 19, Member of the Budget Committee and Vice-Chairman of the Minority Caucus.
- “This budget seems to have made progress on addressing our continued concerns related to overtime costs but makes little progress in making our city more economically competitive.” – Ken Fleming, District 7, Member of the Budget Committee and Minority Caucus Chair,
- “The release of the Mayor’s Budget starts one of the most important parts of the council calendar. I am glad to see the expansion of the pilot program for recycling that several of us on the council supported in previous year’s budget has gained the support of the Mayor and that they are making another investment in expanding the recycling options for our citizens.” – Kevin Kramer, District 11, Member of the Metro Council Budget Committee.
If the foregoing analysis doesn't tell you all you need to know about the mayor's proposed budget, you can CLICK HERE to get your own copy for review.
UPDATE: The Budget Committee of the Louisville Metro Council will begin its review of the FY 2013-2014 Operating and Capital Budgets on Wednesday, May 29th with the Department of Public Health and Wellness. The hearing will begin at 3:00pm.
“This is the first budget where our revenue picture looks much brighter than in years past,” says Councilwoman Marianne Butler (D-15) who chairs the Committee. “We have a good working relationship with the Mayor and his staff and I do not expect any major surprises as we begin our review.”
The Committee has scheduled several hearings over the coming weeks with the goal of approving a budget on Thursday, June 18th.
“The Mayor’s process of developing a budget worked with members of the Metro Council and reflects much of our shared vision for the community. I look forward to working with my council colleagues to review the Mayor’s proposed budget over the next month,” said Councilman Kelly Downard (R-16) who is Budget Committee Vice-Chair.
The Fischer Administration will give an overview of revenue projects and operations of the government for the coming year on Monday, June 3rd. On Thursday, June 5th public safety agencies such as Fire and EMS will appear before the committee. Louisville Metro Police will come before the group on Tuesday, June 11th at 3:00pm.
The public will have a chance to comment on the budget at a special public hearing which will be held on Thursday, June 13th beginning at 5:30pm in Council Chambers. Information on how to sign up for comment will be forth coming.
“This budget reflects many priorities of the Council and we look forward to hearing from each agency on what lies ahead in the coming year,’ says Butler.
All hearings will be broadcast live on Metro TV, Time Warner Cable Channel 25. The hearing will also be streamed live at www.louisvilleky.gov/metrocouncil.