Zach Brandon (foreground) looks over the list of Madison city budget amendments as the council meets in the Madison Municipal Building.
Twenty-seven dollars. If all of Ald. Zach Brandon's amendments to cut the city of Madison's 2007 budget had passed, the owner of an average $239,000 home would have saved $27. While not an overwhelming amount of money, notes Brandon, it "adds up over time."
Brandon was the lead sponsor on 27 amendments that would have collectively cut $9 million from the city's budget. These included everything from $100,000 for a downtown public-safety initiative to $2,500 for a new coffee urn at the Senior Center.
This week, during the first two nights of budget deliberations, Brandon often had the support of seven to eight other alders. But that was not enough to pass the 20-member body. And so on Thursday, on the third and final night, he threw in the towel.
"I still feel strongly about those amendments," he told council members, who debated until nearly midnight on the previous two nights and were anticipating an even longer session on Thursday. "I truly don't have the energy to sit here and fight about millions of dollars that I think are inappropriate to spend. I know I can't win."
After withdrawing 12 of his remaining amendments, Brandon sat back and watched while the council debated other amendments to the city's $211 million operating budget, most of which would add spending.
As a concession to Brandon ("a generous gift on behalf of myself"), Ald. Austin King dropped his amendment to add $200,000 to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The council also passed one amendment by Brandon, to raise the room tax from 8% to 9% and transfer $350,000 from the fund to help pay the city's subsidy to the Overture Center. The move lowered the property tax levy.
But the council approved $1.3 million in additional spending, including $50,000 for the Neighborhood Grants Program and $25,000 for a warming shelter at the Salvation Army. (In all, these allocations added $1.03 to the average residential tax bill.) Brandon loudly voted "No' on virtually every new spending initiative. As the meeting progressed, he looked more and more disgruntled, shaking his head and crossing his arms, though he rarely spoke.
When the council finally finished, around 11:30 p.m., and the alders began congratulating themselves on a job well done, Brandon looked ready to burst. He finally launched into a speech: "You pat yourselves on the back for all the increases you put in. There wasn't one increase you rejected. 'I'd spend more if I could!'"
Brandon recalled how he watched the council pass amendment after amendment in 2002, prompting him to run for office so he could do something about it. And here he was, watching the same thing happen again.
"You voted with accolades for every single increase," he fumed. "Last night you came down pretty hard on me. That you didn't appreciate what I do. Well, we saw what happens when I withdraw all my amendments and keep my mouth shut. The taxpayer loses out."