[Ed. note: This op-ed was written by The Jefferson County Chapter of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth Economic Justice Workteam. On April 25, Mayor Greg Fischer released his budget, detailing $25 million in cuts instead of the expected $35 million. He adopted a softer tone than used previously, saying “it’s no secret that I strongly disagree with the choice (Council) made.” But “my responsibility is to translate your vote into a budget.” Among his proposed cuts are: a net reduction of 40 uniformed police officers, one fewer firehouse and ambulance, the closure of two libraries, an 18 percent reduction in funding for the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, $7 million less for affordable housing and a reduced paving budget. He is still promising $1 million for homeless services, funding for the Tech Talent and SummerWorks programs and the opening of the Northeast Regional Library, among other things. ]
No matter your ZIP code, we all want whole, thriving communities. Gov. Matt Bevin’s recent changes to Kentucky’s pension system have created budget shortfalls in communities across the Commonwealth, including here in Louisville. Last month, Mayor Greg Fischer announced a $65 million hole in Louisville’s budget, with $35 million due this year. Metro Chief Financial Officer Daniel Frockt acknowledged to WDRB reporter Chris Otts that there are non-pension-related items totaling $15 million in the $35 million budget hole estimate.
Mayor Fischer then proposed a tax increase, which the Metro Council rejected.
The people have spoken.
We understand the pain of financial distress that ordinary people are feeling that resulted in the rejection of any additional taxes at a recent Metro Council meeting. The city’s budget cannot and should not be balanced on the backs of poor or working class people.
The people are tired of business as usual at City Hall. The people know about the lopsided, sweetheart deals known as public-private partnerships. For example — the deal given to the UofL Athletic Association in regards to the KFC Yum Center, the $139 million dollars given to the Omni Hotel and the deal that allows the city to temporarily own the property known as Churchill Downs so that Churchill Downs can avoid paying the equivalent of property taxes at the normal amount. Sweetheart deals given to apartment complex developers who promise to deliver affordable rental units, don’t deliver, but yet are allowed to keep unearned benefits.
The people look at these sweetheart deals and know there is bound to be $65 million dollars in there somewhere to meet the new pension requirements.
The actual year-to-year pension increase, $10 million, would amount to about 1.6 percent of the city’s tax revenue, according to WDRB’s projections. So, then why the harsh and punitive tactics coming out of the Mayor’s Office? On Friday April 5, the mayor’s press office announced LMPD’s June recruit classes were canceled, city employee health insurance benefits were changed, cost-of-living increases may be eliminated and outdoor swimming pools would not open.
The people are going to get tired of these public relations stunts.
It makes one think that the Metro Council and, by extension the people, are being punished for not doing what they were told. It makes one think the insurance tax increase was designed to maintain business as usual at City Hall.
Business as usual means making sure there is enough money in the till for glossy public-private partnerships that benefit very few people.
We don’t believe that the Metro Council deserves to be punished because it has chosen to examine a situation and move in a different direction.
We do not accept business as usual.
We call on the city to take bold action to address this budget challenge by following the principles of compassion and equity.
We suggest that every sweetheart deal, known as public-private partnerships, be reevaluated and, if necessary, renegotiated.
We believe cuts or privatization of city functions should not be discussed until existing and proposed public private partnerships are examined. If there are cuts deemed necessary after these deals are reexamined, the cuts should be done thoughtfully and with full public input, not as part of a scare campaign.
The people demand that the time of business as usual at City Hall come to an end. •
The Jefferson County Chapter of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth Economic Justice Workteam: Connor Allen, Judi Jennings, Anastasia Kaufmann, K.A. Owens and Steven Schweinhart