Begich budget woes leaves more to be desired

Every time I begin a session of Sid Meyer’s urban planning simulation, I go for the gusto. Go big or go home, right? I like to press pause and lay out my entire utilities grid-roads, power, public transit, elaborate parks, electricity and all the other civic services-before I even have the slightest idea how I’m going to fund it all.

Of course, Mark Begich probably wouldn’t place his graveyards next to his landfills for comedic effect, but I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. Budget deficit.

Color me not surprised, by the way. Huge budgeting shortfalls-really? Ten months ago, I cast my opinion of Begich as unfit for the US Senate because of his budgeting skills. Essentially, Begich bought the votes of every Anchorage resident who couldn’t see past the fact that he kept the roads and trails clean and well-groomed all winter. Unfortunately, all those shiny maintenance vehicles actually cost money.

More than doubling the city’s budget during your term is certainly one way to get the city to look nice and to run smooth, but what happens when the money runs out? The Mark Begich solution is that by the time the money runs out you’re on to bigger and better things-it’s not your problem any more.

Now Dan Sullivan is stuck with a balancing act nobody would want. In addition to balancing the city’s books, Sullivan has to balance his cuts so that no one group feels singled out. Not a fun proposition. I don’t even like to balance my checkbook, and I certainly don’t have to listen to my monthly expenditures protest every time I decide I have to spend less.

And people will protest. Already Sullivan’s cuts have raised questions. People seem to take the most offense to savings made on Parks & Recreation and the Anchorage Police and Fire Departments, especially while public schools remain unaffected.

An interesting side note is that the savings provided by 13 Anchorage Police vacancies is apparently triple the savings of 18 Parks & Rec. vacancies. However, most people who protest budget cuts to fire and safety won’t even consider how the money is spent. Imagine opposing steep budget cuts to an orphanage without knowing that the money was going to tuxedoes for administration and solid gold soup bowls.

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Anyone who bellyaches about the impact of Sullivan’s cuts to police and fire obviously didn’t notice that one of the biggest line items-$363 thousand for a single engine company-was an unacceptable cut to the new mayor.

As a matter of fact, not one single firefighter or police officer is being laid off-so if your home didn’t burn down or get looted and vandalized last year, you’ll probably be safe next year too. If either of those things did actually happen to you though, my flippant comment was probably in very poor taste. Sorry.

As for other complaints about Sullivan’s cuts-while it is a bit strange that the school district hasn’t been examined for budget fat yet, nor the property tax exemption for religious institutions re-evaluated-be patient. With almost three million in cuts left to go, there’s no telling who will feel the pinch during the next round. I can only hope that if the school district is targeted, cuts are made from administration and facilities before and have your say. teaching positions.

Overall, I think our new mayor is making the best of a bad situation, by trying to spread the bad news thin. I’d much rather see small sacrifices across the board than to see any one service gouged (though the parks cut comes close). If you have an opinion on where to save money and improve service, instead of complaining go to http://socsurvey.muni.org/.

The way I see it, it’s easy to play Sim City the way I do. I’m sure Sen. Begich would agree. When you fully fund all your public services and pile them on, regardless of sustainability, then you actually end up with pretty content citizens. For a while. The only problem is that every single time your expenditures will eventually outpace your income-usually drastically. When that happens, I usually just quit. So did Sen. Begich.

Making a city nice was easy, making it work was something much more difficult. So bear with Mayor Sullivan while he makes some difficult decisions. It’s nice to see a fiscal conservative actually living up to his title.