Since Mayor Herenton made his rueful budget shortfall announcement on February 18th that led to cutting jobs and city services, numerous people have come out of the woodwork with recommendations for closing the $6.4 million budget deficit. There's been talk of rescinding pay increases to city employees, of ending tuition-reimbursement programs, and even of canceling a proposed efficiency study. While these suggestions are admirable, they are all too little, too late.
Long before the city found itself in such dire financial straits, there should have been in place some form of spending accountability. Since there wasn't, the city was obliged to have provided better -- both more considerate and more efficient -- management of the layoff process. And surely it was possible to avoid the competitive muddles by which both mayor and council first proposed, then acted to take away employee pay raises. These were issues that Mayor Herenton dismissed as "nickel and diming" in discussions of the budget emergency, but the last we looked, nickels and dimes added up to dollars.
City financial officers have repeatedly blamed the failing economy and depleted revenue streams for the city's budget woes. Maybe so, but such analysis overlooks the key budgeting tenet: You can't spend more than you make. Unfortunately, those elected officials in charge of determining spending priorities seem never to have learned this rule.
As of this week, the city of Memphis was overdrawn by 2,100 lives. That's the number of municipal employees affected with loss of livelihood, most of them involved in pursuits previously considered vital to the community's well-being.
That's what we call out of balance.