Special Assembly Report for November 9. 2007
TOOLS OF HIS TRADE: COFFEY GOES AFTER THE MAYOR'S BUDGET; Led by Dan Coffey, a shadowy gang of Assembly conservatives took a meat axe to Mayor Begich’s 2008-9 city budget in a wild work session in city hall on Friday afternoon. Only after the mayor and his staff presented a number of modest improvements in an "S" or substitute for the budget presented some six weeks ago, did Coffey present a draft resolution calling for more than $25M in cuts in programs and services in 2008-9. In lockstep, Coffey was joined by Debbie Ossiander, Chris Birch, Paul Bauer, and Jennifer Johnston in the resolution.
The resolution would strip $1.12M from budgets of 23 departments in 2008-9, representing wage increases approved for executives in 2007. From the language of the resolution, its not clear that actual salaries paid to executives would be reduced or that their raises would simply be taken "out of the hide" of their department’s budget. The resolution would also require that future raises given to city executives be approved by the Assembly even though current law gives that power to the mayor. Coffey’s group would also cut $3.21M set aside in the Mayor’s budget for 72 new positions, including Fire, Development Services, Employee Relations, and Project Management and Engineering. Coffey had no explanation for elimination of positions funded by voter approved projects nor would he provide reasons behind his action.
Most controversial is a proposed reduction of $6.0M in personnel costs Coffey says the city should absorb through normal vacancies in existing staff or the "vacancy factor". Mayor Begich corrected Coffey during the work session by patiently explaining that budgeted personnel costs for 2008-9 are already reduced to account for "vacancy factor" and that further reduction in personnel allocations would requite layoffs. In response, Coffey refused to promise that with the additional personnel cuts his group proposes, there would be no layoffs or reduction in city services. Finally, Coffey’s resolution would delete a reference to some $13.5M the city expects to receive from the Alaska legislature in "general assistance" revenues. Elimination of this amount from the City’s budget may signal state legislators that Anchorage really doesn’t need the money after all. Moreover, this reduction could affect ongoing plans to apply state aid to local property tax reduction as well.
Coffey also refused to say how individual departments, programs and services, would be affected by the broad cuts he proposes. Presumably, Mayor Mark Begich will shortly explain how the city would function within this resolution and the result won’t be pretty. Whether the draconian cuts presented by Coffey spell doom for the comparatively modest changes the mayor proposed on Friday in the "S" or substitute version of his budget is also very uncertain. All we know at this time is the public with have another chance to testify on the budget when the Assembly meets next Tuesday evening (November 13th) at 6:00 p.m. in the Loussac Library.