Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Budget Import - Part 1 of Series

Sorry for how long it has taken for me to provide the detail on the budget I promised the other night. But, sometimes things have to perk a while before they are ready.

I am going to break up my review into separate entries with one topic per entry. In this one I will give you an idea of within what framework I look at the budget and through what lens I view its importance. Then I will go on to the budget spin, the CIB, Parks, the Telecom & Video Services Agency, funds for redistricting, DMD, the Sheriff's budget, and some issues arising from some Township budgets. I may be forgetting something, and I'll just tack it on at the end if I am.

The budget tells me what the priorities of the administration are. Mayor Ballard has yet to lay out his vision for Indianapolis. And now that he has a highly skilled speech writer, we are not likely to hear the off the cuff snippets about Chinatown and World Cup Soccer that once served as our only enlightenment in the vision area.

Just like in personal budgets, you can talk a big story, but do you put your money where your mouth is? If you say college is important, but you spend all of your disposable income on buying and maintaining a boat and put nothing in savings for college, then it must be concluded that you think a boat is more important than your child going to college. The same is true for me with the City-County budget. What choices are being made and how is the money being distributed between government activities and between years? The numbers are just numbers until they are put in context with the larger picture of policy and practice.

I must say, I have also learned a lot more of the big picture by attending the budget hearings in person rather than just watching on Channel 16. You can see the attitude and demeanor of Councillors or other hearing attendees when the camera is not focused on them. You can catch the chitchat in the hallways as you pass by and people give you information they won't repeat on air. Sometimes people are handing out fliers in front of the building. You can see who is in the room, even if they never speak. You can ask questions and look people in the eye as they answer.

If it were up to me, I'd let the public email or text in their own questions while the hearing is live. Not many, if any, would take advantage, but it would be an interesting exercise in participatory government.

I know budgets seem dry, but the hearings are not. At the end of the day, its not about the numbers, its about the importance our Mayor and Council put on the different functions of government that serve the residents and taxpayers of Indianapolis and Marion County.

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