Mayor Greg Fischer said he’s worried that the budget will deepen inequities in the city. We all should share his concern, but we also should be outraged.
Because the politicians who chose austerity and draconian budget cuts did more to protect their jobs than they did to protect the people they serve. What’s more, the same council members promised they could offer a better budget than Fischer’s, one that offered the same services for less.
They did not succeed.
Instead, the council budget jeopardizes lives in urban core sections that have the most crime and violence in order to lessen the impact of cuts in the more affluent suburbs.
We should be concerned about the future of kids who get caught up in legal trouble and end up in juvenile detention. To fill a $25 million deficit, the council’s budget closes the local juvenile detention center and will send kids into the state system — one of six facilities, some of which are over 100 miles away from their homes in Louisville. That would harm kids and their families at a time when these at-risk kids are most vulnerable and need family support.
We should be worried about the effect the cuts will have on public safety. Public safety is the most important government service regardless of what neighborhood you live in.
Cutting funding for a violence “interrupter” program — which has been universally heralded by community leaders, including police Chief Steve Conrad — will jeopardize lives in urban neighborhoods, but not touch the affluent suburbs.
This inequity is the difference between life and death.
The same goes for decommissioning an ambulance, shrinking the number of police officers and ending the Living Room, a diversion program for those suffering from substance abuse and mental illness.
Meanwhile, the Middletown Library will stay open — just 4.4 miles away from the “brand-spanking new, $18 million Northeast Regional Library,” as Courier Journal columnist Joe Gerth points out.
According to Fischer: “The desire to keep the Middletown library is understandable, but Council has done that with deep cuts to our violence prevention efforts.”
It is unthinkable that someone in The West End could lose their life to keep open a suburban library.
Perhaps the greatest outrage of this budget is that all 26 Metro Council members will retain $130,000 each for discretionary spending projects: Council members will spend taxpayer dollars on projects, which they then will take credit for and use to enhance their bids for reelection, when it was their ignorance and arrogance that caused the pain that will be inflicted by this budget in the first place.
Fifteen council members voted for austerity, “savings” and “efficiencies,” instead of an average tax increase of less than $12 per month for homeowners. Rich people would have paid more, and poorer people would have paid less.
After the council rejected the tax, Republican Councilman Anthony Piagentini said on Twitter that the council wanted to see for itself whether it could do better:
“The representatives of the people have spoken, and they prefer to see us scrutinize every aspect of the budget before we saddle taxpayers with new taxes.”
Well, the council scrutinized the budget and came back with a worse budget.
While there is no question that poorer, at-risk communities will feel the most the pain, the politicians made sure that they would feel the least pain — and that is the greatest inequity. •