Lincoln Mayors Office Wants Your Input on the Budget? Sorta

By Shelli Dawdy

This is almost laughable. Almost.

I find no small irony in the fact that the discussion about the City of Lincoln budget conveniently occurs after the primary election is over. It’s particularly convenient this year following the full court press (yes, pun intended) to build a new arena.

A budget discussion at this point is a bit like trying to figure out where the money will come from to pay your electric bill after you just signed a contract to put in a pool and hot tub using your credit card.

If one uses the Lincoln Journal Star’s search function to input “city budget”, there is a strangely similar theme in most of the stories. That theme is budget shortfalls dating back for at least five years. Also, very strangely, despite this reality, Lincoln primary voters passed the bond issue to build that new arena.

Hey! Maybe we can spend our way out of this!

For those who find that plan troubling (it does have a familiar ring, doesn’t it?) not to worry! The Mayor wants your input on the upcoming budget. Kinda.

This Saturday, there is a budget discussion scheduled by the University of Nebraska’s Public Policy Center. It’s called “Taking Charge 2010″. Here are the details posted on the PPC’s website (a snapshot of the front page of the site appears above):

“Saturday, May 15, 2010
8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

For the past two years, Lincoln residents have come together to better understand the City budget and give their thoughts and guidance on the service decisions faced by City elected officials. Those past citizen sessions have made an impact on the City’s budget choices.

Please join Mayor Beutler and other Lincoln residents for this year’s “Taking Charge: A Public Discussion on City Priorities & the Budget.” Your voice can make a difference for Lincoln.”

Besides the irony already pointed out about a city budget discussion at this stage, there are additional gems to be discovered here. As the information above indicates, this is not the first budget discussion held. What is interesting is how these discussions are structured and conducted. One of GiN’s members, Linda, who is also a regular poster on this site, attended the very same discussion last year. Following the experience and a Lincoln Journal Star article about the results, she was motivated to write a Letter to the Editor about it. That letter was actually turned into a featured Local View column (and resulted in an invitation to be a Community Columnist). I recommend you read the article in full, by clicking HERE, as it is a very well written explanation of the problems with the construction of the discussion.

From all the information that is currently available, it appears as if the budget discussion tomorrow will be constructed in a nearly identical fashion.

But this year, the Mayor’s office has apparently decided it needs even less input than in the prior two years and it would prefer to hear largely from the same compliant crowd as last year. Linda received a call from the PPC inviting her to return again this year. I looked for quite a while on the City of Lincoln website and cannot find a posting about the upcoming budget discussion or a pubic survey residents can use to give their input. Perhaps I missed it. If anyone finds it, please DO post the link in the comment box.

Because of the election on Tuesday and an apparent lack of effort on the part of the Mayor’s office to adequately publicize the budget discussion in advance, there’s been little time to disseminate the information about it. I’m not sure if there’s still time to register to participate or not, but it’s worth a try if you have the day free tomorrow.

To register for the discussion click HERE.

We intend to make the City of Lincoln budget issue a project for the Nebraska Liberty Watchmen City subgroup. Whether or not you can make it on Saturday to the budget meeting, if you’d like to be involved in rolling up your sleeves and scrutinizing this situation further, we invite you to join in. Please send us an email indicating your interest by using the Email Form located HERE.

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