Several of you have referred to adjusting the proposed city budget as a "zero-sum game," where restoring any service would be offset by an equal cut elsewhere. This does not make sense because all items in the budget are not of equal societal value; if you decrease, say, the number of consultants you hire, this will not have the same impact of closing Children's Library to the public. So what you cut changes the impact on the public, even if the dollar amounts remain the same.
More problematically, though, the "zero-sum game" mentality seems driven by the fact that city staff has basically provided council with one set of options, with little ability to select any other. The proposed operating budget does NOT say, "Here are three separate proposals for closing the budget gap. Pick one, or mix and match line-items between them until the budget balances."
Not only are different options not suggested, but the proposed operating budget is extremely incomplete. It is mostly a list of cuts from what was included in this year's budget alongside lists of the expenses and revenues of each large department and sub-department. The costs of individual programs and facilities within those departments are rarely included. For example, the budgets of the Children's Theatre, Children's Library, Art Center, Cubberley Community Center, and Lucie Stern Theatre are nowhere to be found.
For these programs and most others, the only line-items that appear are the one's staff has suggested cutting, so if council wants to make different cuts, they can't do it from the provided documents because the specifics are not there, and most of the details that are provided, such as the number of full-time-equivalent positions in each department, lack explanations or context that would enable councilmembers to adjust them. Such explanations and context are only given for the proposed cuts, which offer limited glimpses of the missing information by referring to programs, positions, and expenses not mentioned elsewhere, such as Children's Theatre performances and the staffing levels and expenses of individual libraries.
The missing information can hardly be secret, since much of it from the last few years, including the current FY 2021, is available online through the Administrative Services Department's Open Budget web app, and just yesterday, May 7, 2021, information from the proposed 2022 budget was added, including potentially hundreds of line-items not included in the budget documents submitted to the council. But the app does not describe each item beyond its name, the items are not necessarily grouped by programs, and they are not arranged in a format that allows for easy review and comparison. Critically, since this information does not seem to be part of the official documents given to the council, and it lacks context to make it useful, I fear that it will not be used by the council during budget deliberations.
Therefore, I urge the city staff to provide the complete budget to the council and public in a clear and straight-forward format so that multiple options can be considered and informed decisions made. This is difficult to do with the currently-provided "operating budget," which limits council's options by providing them--and the public--with a limited range of information and choices.