Despite the hopes of some on the City Council that the annual budget process will be less contentious and time consuming than in years' past, the battle over additions to and subtractions from Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's proposal isn't likely to be considered by many as cordial. There are, after all, 54 total amendments (the full list, including descriptions, for both the 2007 Capital and Operating budgets are available in the related downloads at top right), many of which will see strong-minded support and opposition.
Standing on opposing sides of many issues, as they have many times before, will be Ald. Zach Brandon, representing the fiscal conservatives, and Ald. Brenda Konkel, leading the liberals.
For years, Brandon has made limiting city spending a centerpiece of his political identity, gathering allies and creating a splash in the media with his message of restraint and duty to the average taxpayer. This year, he and a group of nine others " including members of the 2005 class of rookie alders who regularly align with him and the council's most outspoken conservatives -- introduced a package of 27 amendments. They consist primarily of spending cuts, from deleting $1.2 million for a James Madison Park renovation to some with no effect on the city tax levy.
The remaining 27 amendments were introduced by a variety of other council members (and Mayor Cieslewicz) of all political stripes. Leading the way with these amendments is Konkel, who has proposed a series of relatively minor spending increases, mostly for personnel salaries and social services. Most of these amendments are co-sponsored by her progressive allies on the Council, Austin King and Brian Benford. Several are directed in opposition to amendments offered by Brandon's group, such as those redirecting or providing additional funding to perennially hot topics like the Madison Sister City program and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Konkel has been writing up a storm online about the budget process, publishing a list of the amendments she's sponsoring, along with analyses of the aggregate impacts of the cuts in the Operating and Capital budgets suggested by the Brandon group. Brandon himself has remained quiet online about the subject, electing instead to speak through the traditional media. One of his primary allies, meanwhile, is east-side Ald. Larry Palm, a fellow blogger. Palm has limited his writing on the process to a criticism of Konkel for sponsoring additional library funding.
While Brandon and Konkel have served as political tent poles every budget season in the last few years, though, the most significant voices in the outcome may be two grizzled budget veterans. Serving since 1984 and 1989, respectively, south side Ald. Tim Bruer and near west side Ald. Ken Golden have each participated in crafting ten more budgets than most of their colleagues. Assuming centrist positions on most issues, they're often instrumental in developing compromises during the late stages of deliberations. However, both have well-earned windy reputations, and often overwhelm stalled arguments with sheer volume of words.
Mayor Cieslewicz, meanwhile, says that while he doesn't agree with every amendment, he's generally pleased with the outcome of the budget process, particularly what he describes as its "fundamental provisions." His full statement is also available in the related downloads at top right.
Will things play out differently this year? Brandon predicts the process will be less contentious, though whether this is due to confidence in his support or the absence of extraordinarily rancorous subjects like the transit system budget remains to be seen. At the end of the three-night budget marathon in 2005, most alders agreed that discussions and arguments were more focused and civil than during the previous year. This was due, in part, to the scheduling of three relatively short nights of deliberations, rather than one session running into the early morning hours.
This worked so well that the three-night schedule is in place again this year. Starting Tuesday night, the Council will convene to hear public testimony and deliberate the amendments before voting on the budget... hopefully before the mayor departs on a deer hunting trip Friday morning.