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Angela Hunt Has a Bad Dream

Some time today, the Dallas City Council will approve City Manager Mary Suhm's FY2009-2010 budget. And as a sort of preview, District 14 rep Angela Hunt last night posted a flashback to last year's budget vote, when she warned on September 24, 2008, that "this budget is overly optimistic ... based on a hope that we will have more sales tax revenue and more fees coming into the city ... I think we've got to do everything we can to pull in our belts. because it's going to be a tough ride over the next year, maybe over the next two years, maybe over the next several years."

Then, she looks ahead:

I've been staring into this budget for weeks, and here's what I see: The city is going to get into too much debt in the coming year -- borrowing $355 million. That won't hurt too much next year, but it could devastate us the following year when our debt repayment goes up by $24 million. (To put that in perspective, that's the entire budget for our streets department or our code department.)

Where will we get this money? That's when my powers of insight fail me. Short of raising taxes, I can't foresee any way to cobble together the additional millions of dollars that will be needed to repay our debt. We've already cut our budget to the bone; cutting another $24 million would reduce city services to an unacceptable level and might actually threaten our infrastructure. Since there's no reason to believe we'll be getting additional revenue, where is this money going to come from?

We can avert this crisis by paring down our debt as we weather this recession. Let's borrow $140 million next year instead of $355 million. We'll still be able to complete plenty of bond projects, but we won't increase our debt repayment the following year. We can extend our bond program by a couple of years, and make it through these tough times without saddling our citizens with crippling debt.

Unfortunately, I don't see that in the cards. Instead, I have a vision of our mayor and City Council making a grave mistake in passing a budget we can't afford, and Dallas taxpayers suffering the consequences.

After that, the going gets weird, as she cracks open the dream journal. Now, who's about to "plunge a great city into dark indenture"?

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