City budget woes: The one thing the council can’t cut

Literally. That would be the debt service, which accounted for almost 10 percent of the $2.7 billion 2008-09 budget. So, as bad as the budget problem is – and, apparently, the council woke up from its slumber this week to realize just that – it can only work with 90 percent of the budget to fix the deficit. The council can’t do a thing with the $246 million that is earmarked for paying the interest on city bond programs. That has to be paid, regardless.

You can see all this for yourself here. It’s a PDF of the summary of the 2008-09 budget; go to page 42 to see the budget outline. (This is the entire budget, by the way, as opposed to the operating budget, which usually gets most of the attention.)

The current projected deficit is $190 million, and my guess is that it will increase a couple of times more before the council starts budget discussions this summer. We still doesn’t know how much property tax revenue, which funds most of the budget, will decline, and I’m having a difficult time getting someone at the county tax collector’s office to explain how that process works.

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The result will be the same, though: A tax increase, regardless of council protestations; deep and painful service cuts, regardless of council protestations; and a moratorium on hiring more cops, regardless of council protestations. And the council, which has ignored this problem for more than a year, will have no one to blame but itself.

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