Friday, February 13, 2009

Mayor Funkhouser Addresses the Budget

I thought Funkhouser's letter concerning the Budget was extremely well-done, and a good example of the kind of straight talk and dedication to priorities that won him the office. Hilariously, and I kind of think she might have been joking, Jan Marcason accused the letter of "set[ting] up a tension that didn’t need to be there." Umm, yeah, Jan, that letter managed to bring tension to a peaceful, loving City Hall, right? Too funny!

Rather than trying to "spin" the letter, though, I'll just post it and let everyone read it for themselves.
DATE: February 12, 2009

TO: City Councilmembers

FROM: Mayor Mark Funkhouser

SUBJECT: Comments on Proposed FY 2009-10 Budget


The Kansas City Charter requires that I deliver to the City Council a copy of the proposed budget along with my comments. This letter fulfills that requirement.

As we approached this budget season I thought of Sir Winston Churchill who said, "We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Give us the tools and we will finish the job."

This budget does not give us the tools to do the job.

On January 15th I was handed the first draft of the budget. I distributed copies of that budget to the members of the City Council and to the press. Here is that budget.

On February 2nd, a second budget was delivered to my office. Here is a copy of that budget.

As you can plainly see, there is a significant difference in these two documents. As you will hear, those differences caused me to look at this budget differently.

You have heard me say before that I am committed to returning Kansas City’s focus to its residents. This budget should put Kansas City's families first. We need to protect our families and be compassionate about their circumstances. The way to do that is to be smart with their money by providing them with an accountable and transparent budget.

The budget delivered to me fails to do that and is therefore unacceptable.

In my conversations with individual members of the City Council, not one has indicated that he or she is prepared to vote for this budget as submitted. There are good reasons for this. This budget is unbalanced, unaccountable, and full of gimmicks and smokescreens. It doesn't put Kansas City families first.

Protection

This budget proposes cuts to the Police Department that will undo ten years of progress to improve services. Chief Corwin tells me it will force the layoff of more than 200 police personnel and take dozens of officers off the streets. This is unacceptable.

Kansas City's families deserve to feel safe in their homes. Marie Sims is a mother of four children, one of whom was born deaf and blind. She works two jobs. Marie Sims' eastside home has been burglarized twice in three months.

Marie Sims does not feel safe in her home. Still, Marie Sims told the Kansas City Star that police officers who helped her were "her angels."

By taking police off of the street, families like the Sims will feel even less safe.

Kansas City's families deserve to feel safe on the streets. In December, more than 150 police officers went door to door to track down dozens of people being sought by the homicide unit. That sweep solved the murder of Napoleon Malone, who was killed while on a smoke break from his job. Mr. Malone should have been safe on our streets.

Kansas City's families deserve to be safe in their neighborhoods. The Waldo Heights apartments used to be a frequent spot for calls about shots fired, drug dealing, burglary, robberies and a host of other problems. Officers responded there on a daily basis. But a concentrated effort by Officer Jeff Peacock has helped clean up the area. A reduction in police officers would jeopardize that success.

Kansas City's parents need to know their children are safe at school. Eastgate Middle School's neighborhood is one of the highest crime spots in the Northland. Parents at the school are relieved that the police department launched a program that places a Community Action Officer in their school. Cutting funding for police threatens that successful program.

The budget presented to us cuts Police Department funding by $10 million. That cut would hurt our families and does the opposite of what they have told us they want us to do.

If Kansas City is to prosper the Sims family, Waldo Heights residents and Eastgate Middle School students must be safe.

We have invested in our police department and it has paid off. Response times have been cut in half. Crime rates have dropped substantially. And citizen perception of safety has increased. If we cut funding now, we jeopardize these gains.

Simply put, cutting police is a short-term budget fix that does not match our residents' priorities, and I will not accept it.

Compassion

This budget would nearly double the city’s property tax levy to fully fund general obligation debt service. It estimates that this would generate $8 million annually. In these hard times, I will not burden working families with an 86% increase in one of their city property taxes.

I recently received a heartbreaking letter from one of my residents about this proposed tax increase. When I called him, he told me about his struggle as a senior citizen trying to make ends meet. Every dollar we add to his tax burden is one less dollar he can spend on food and heating. How could we support such a tax on our senior citizens?

We need to ask ourselves what this tax would really pay for. Should we use this tax to pay the $7.2 million shortfall on debt for the Power and Light district? Should we use it to pay for luxury condos or a convention hotel? Should we use it to continue to subsidize downtown TIF developers? It is unconscionable to almost double this tax on residents when they wouldn't even get a vote.

I must reject this proposal.


Accountability and Transparency

This budget fails Kansas City families with its lack of accountability. This is unacceptable to me.

In 2004 when they approved bonds to pay for capital improvements, the voters were promised that those bonds would not result in a tax increase. We can not break our promises to the voters.

Likewise, when the City asked its residents to approve a public safety sales tax, it promised the tax would result in 20 more policemen a year. We can not break our promise to our residents.

To do so would undermine citizen trust in their government. Any portion of this budget that fails to fulfill our word to Kansas City's families must be rejected.

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of my heroes, Abraham Lincoln. He said "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crises. The great point is to bring them the real facts." This budget fails to bring the real facts. This is unacceptable.

The submitted budget contains $14.5 million in unspecified cuts to city departments. In reality these are cuts in basic services that will show up unannounced during the fiscal year, much like last year's weed problem. These cuts are nothing but smoke and mirrors.

Likewise, the budget transmittal letter states "A reduction in workforce anticipates the elimination of 300-400 vacant and filled positions in General Fund supported funds." However, these position reductions do not show up in the personnel schedules, because they are not really lay offs – they are financial targets that department heads are supposed to achieve. If the department head can find the money elsewhere he or she can avoid layoffs. Therefore, the number of lay offs is not clear. Worse, it is not clear what services are being cut.

All across Kansas City, families are sitting down at their kitchen tables and reworking their family budgets. If they used this budget as a guide, they would cut a little from everything, including their necessities. I would submit that most Kansas City families know enough to prioritize their expenses. They cut their luxury items, like eating out, while leaving alone the necessities, like buying formula for their babies.

This budget's gimmickry fails our duty to those responsible families. It makes no difficult choices.

A budget is a plan for action. This budget has no plan, only soft promises to make cuts. This council must reject this attempt to submit an unaccountable budget.


Additional Tools Required

Therefore, I am sending this budget back with my recommendations.

By February 26, I expect a document to be delivered that provides us with a balanced budget without cutting the Police Department, without increasing property taxes, and without making unspecified cuts.

We owe it to the Kansas City families we are charged to take care of to know exactly what cuts will be made, how many actual jobs will be lost, and what services will be curtailed.

Last year this City Council passed a budget that included eliminating 140 positions, but management cut only about 80 positions. Only about 18 people left the payroll. Using financial targets instead of position reductions means that the cuts in expenditures are not structural. There is no transparency for Kansas City families.

Once I receive a balanced, accountable budget with no gimmicks or smokescreens, I will review it and make my final recommendations on March 5th.

Albert Einstein said, "In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.”

These difficult times are an opportunity for Kansas City to reshape how the city works for our residents. We can only do that by starting our budget discussions with honesty and the desire to make hard choices. As Churchill said, we need the tools to finish the job.

Ladies and gentleman, once we have those tools it will be time to roll up our sleeves and finish this work.


cc: City Manager Wayne Cauthen

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19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well you and the mayor agree on that.

2/13/2009 8:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder how much of this letter was written by Jack Cashill. Jack indicated that he is asked to review most of Funkhouser's major communications.

2/13/2009 8:32 AM  
Blogger I Travel for JOOLS said...

As an outsider and not having read the budget, I have to say that if I was a citizen of Kc I would be outraged at the prospect of having my property taxes almost double while at the same time seeing police protection significantly cut. They can't be serious.

2/13/2009 9:33 AM  
Anonymous try2Bobjective said...

I think the issue is that this memo is nothing but generalities and criticism, and what specifically should not be done to balance the budget.

Punctuated by quotes from Einstein and Churchill.

Conspicuously absent are any specific proposals to balance the budget.

I think a long-time city auditor who campaigned on being "smart with the money" needs to provide specific ideas, especially after having the budget in-hand for a significant amount of time.

Here is the exact nub of the issue: this letter criticizes other people's ideas while not advancing any specific positive measures that will result in a balanced budget.

It simply admonishes other people and asks everybody, everybody but the Mayor, to provide a better solution.

I think the Mayor needs to pony up his specific ideas on how to balance the budget, especially when the mayor has over 15 years auditing experience in this very same city.

I could have missed the specifc proposals, so if I missed them feel free to point them out to me.

2/13/2009 10:02 AM  
Blogger Do you see me? said...

If the Mayor and the Manager actually talked to each other, the budget issues might be able to be resolved without all this grandstanding. Funkhouser hasn't said anything here but hrumph. How to get this done is another matter. So he will sit on his ideas until March 5, leaving just a couple of weeks to actually pass a budget. Nice.

2/13/2009 10:31 AM  
Anonymous Sophia said...

I'm bothered by this letter. I agree that it would be madness to cut the law enforcement budget. I'm neutral on the property tax hike... yes, it would stink, but the money needs to come from somewhere and I'd need to consider the other options.

Basically, I'm not disagreeing with the main points he's making. But I expected something different-- more detailed and substantively engaged. From the non-politician mayor, this letter seems excessively political and postured. It reads like a campaign speech, not a response to the proposed budget.

Of course, one has political considerations when drafting such a letter, but the tone on this one is over the top. I've never read one of these letters (response to the budget) before. Maybe this is what they all read like and I'm supposed to be excited that the mayor has the political team to help him play it like the politicians. I just expected more from him.

Politically, I understand why he's making Cauthen suggest cuts. But as a citizen I'd like to hear more from the Mayor on how he would draft the budget. What are the low-priority items? (I'm available to run an anti-zoo campaign!)

2/13/2009 10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fire cauthen and eddy.

2/13/2009 2:05 PM  
Blogger Ward said...

Translation: "This budget sucks. Fix it. But I'm not going to give you any ideas on how it should be done."

2/13/2009 3:33 PM  
Anonymous Jack sees Black 'Copters said...

Dan go back to drinking. It seems to be the only thing that you do well anymore.

Did you write the memo or did Jack Cashill?

2/13/2009 6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark Funkhouser says that property taxes are off limits as Kansas City struggles to correct a structurally imbalanced budget. His "reasoning" is that taxpayers were "promised in brochures, nonbinding resolutions and advocacy "fact sheets" from years ago that property taxes would not go up.

In 2004 when they approved bonds to pay for capital improvements, the voters were promised that those bonds would not result in a tax increase. We can not break our promises to the voters.

Likewise, when the City asked its residents to approve a public safety sales tax, it promised the tax would result in 20 more policemen a year. We can not break our promise to our residents.



So Yael brings up the old promises and Dan tears him a new. Funk brings up the old promises and its all hugs and kisses.

There be your spin folks.

2/13/2009 8:12 PM  
Anonymous The Naughty Librarian said...

Hey Dan, I've had a crush on you for a long time. What I find sexy about you is your balls, if you don't mind me saying.

I read your comment over at Blog CCP defending our Mayor's employment of a Jeff Roe staffer.

And then I recalled your comment on this blog, a few months ago, that you would withdraw your support of Funkhouser if he hired Roe.

Well, he hired a Roe staffer.

And being the hot, curious and horny researcher I am, I have to think that that $5,000 per month that Funkhouser is paying also funds some Roe's general operating overhead, and pays for intermittant access to the Fat Man himself.

You could pay a fraction of that to me have have all of the access you want.

I'm not attracted to fat, but I like my big boys and I like their balls.

You seem to have both, Dan.

I think I'd like to give you a slow back massage, and ask you to hold my waist as you whisper in my ear. Whisper something political. Whisper that it's ok for Jeff Roe and Jack Cashill to have an strong influence on our mayor.

Based upon your comments against the hiring of a Roe staffer earlier, that take some balls Dan.

And I like that in my men.

I'll leave you my email.

The ball's in your court.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

2/13/2009 8:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

5 K a month from Funk (as in our tax dollars) to Jeff Roe is hard to ignore Dan.

Are we sure that this homophobic pond scum that Funkhouser hired is really working for the city alone and not for Axiom Strategies at the same time?

This is bull shit Dan.

2/13/2009 10:24 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

As I said in my comment at BlogCCP, I have huge problems with the guy if he can be tied to the homophobic nonsense that showed up on The Source. If that was him, then, yes, I'll be happy to join in the calls for him to be fired, and I'll criticize the Mayor's judgment for ever hiring him. I'm with you on all that.

But hiring someone who worked for Jeff Roe is not the same as hiring Jeff Roe, nor is it the same as hiring the author of the comments Bough criticizes.

As for the refusal to raise property taxes, you need to read more carefully. In my criticism of Abouhalkah, I clearly stated "I'm not yet convinced that increasing property taxes is a good direction to go. But for Yael Abouhalkah to claim that property taxes are off the table because he chose to be a cheerleader rather than a journalist is unconvincing, and a little repulsive."

My problem was with Abouhalkah's failure to do his job, not with property taxes being too low.

2/14/2009 8:22 AM  
Anonymous Siettman Stench said...

I think the fact that the guy went to work for Jeff Roe says a great deal about his character, or lack of character.

Everyone who knows anything about "Communications" in this down knows exactly what kind of bigotted scum that Jeff Roe and Axiom Communications dishes up. You join that buffet line because you like and believe what is being served. Siettman was not a babe in the woods, he knew exactly the type of firm he was joining.

I am also concerned that this guy was retained on a contract basis because it looks like it is simply a means of putting on of Jeff Roe's employees on the City tab in a year when there are not many elections.

We know that the Mayor has been consulting with Jeff Roe. We know that Funkhouser has no campaign funds to pay for Jeff Roe's consulting services. Would this not be a "smart with the money" (and unethical) means of buying Jeff Roe's time? Funkhouser puts a political operative's employee on the pad in a year when political consulting revenues are down in return for Roe's help?

Since this Roe operative is just a contract employee, do we even know if he is not doing work for Roe at the same time he is doing work for the Mayor?

Jack Cashill and Jeff Roe -- is this really what you voted for Dan?

2/14/2009 9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The good part about Funk hiring Jeff Roe by proxy, is Jeff has abismal win record.

I see this hiring as a good thing for KC.

2/14/2009 9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a load of crap Dan. You say When they should have been forcing clear, specific answers as to where the money would come from and how future councils could be bound by promises of politicians past

and critisize the Star. But Funk does the same thing and gives no specifics and states we should be bound by the promises of former politicians, you lap it up.

Funk and Yael are spouting out the exact same crap, but to you they each taste different.

2/14/2009 9:52 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Did Funkhouser cheerlead the bond issues the way that Yael did? No, he did not.

Did Funkhouser fail to point out the dangers, the way that Yael did? No, he did not.

If Funkhouser chooses to live within prior promises, that's his right. I personally don't think it's his duty, but it's his right.

2/14/2009 10:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan, go back and read your post on 10/1.....isn't this splitting hairs? Even tho the name isn't the same....the game is more than likely exactly the same.

Kinda like defining what "is" is.

2/14/2009 10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan said duty!

2/14/2009 3:24 PM  

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