Now that the shouting and pointing, posturing and politicking are done for another municipal budget year, what have we learned, assuming we learned anything at all.
It seems to me we have NOT yet learned that budgets are a political process that ideally, define desired goods, outcomes and services and then deliver the appropriate amount of public financing to those agencies and departments to pay for those efforts.
We continue to make the process personal which is helpful only when you seek someone to bless or to blame. Instead of looking at an incendiary situation like paying for public education, we get distracted by artificial distinctions (such as I saw repeatedly on-line this year in the comments' section) between property owners and renters. I realize there is a tendency to include as part of any solution a step that involves searching for the guilty, but I've never seen anyone achieve any permanent, long-term solutions by scapegoating.
I'm told it's a part of our nature to believe that "for me to look good, you (whoever you are, from the acting City Manager to the Superintendent of Schools) need to look bad." Based on the frequency with which we do this to one another, it seems to be regarded as true. There's no gain to this game, but we play it rather than seek to directly address the challenges we collectively face.
And who can blame us? Life is hard. And developing a different model of government that involves lowering our voices and our expectations has so far proved to be too hard for us to do. People prefer problems that are familiar to solutions that are not.
Money, often blamed as the root of all evil, is in reality the root of our discord and discontent. We want everything we've always wanted, but we want more of it and we want it to cost less. Someday soon but not soon enough, we may concede silently but never in a collective that we can't continue to have unlimited appetites for public services because we can't afford them.
Every year, in the aftermath of the car crash that was the run-up to the new budget's creation, we promise do better next year, but we never do. We continue to be unhappily surprised that we're never rewarded for all the hard work we didn't do.
As it is, again, we've crafted a budget that increases taxes to beyond a breaking point, doesn't have enough money to educate our children, that requires sacrifices and workarounds for public safety and postpones investments in an infrastructure already thread-bare and well past its best-by date. Instead of joining hands we ball our fists and vow 'next time will be different' but the blame remains the same.