"These budgets are political statements. You cannot have policy without them," said Rick Smith of the Florida Public Services Union. Today, Smith was the last of three speakers with the PBR to discuss the organization's priorities in front of City Hall in downtown St. Pete. Smith said the biggest voting day of the year won't be on Nov. 5 — when registered voters choose their mayoral and city council candidates — but on Sept. 26, the night that the City Council will vote on a final budget for 2014.
Here are the three policy positions that the PBR are calling for:
1. Provide $100,000 to reduce youth unemployment by expanding the Public Works Academy in order to prepare youth for vacancies in the public sector resulting from an aging workforce.
2. Provide $100,000 to help fund the preliminary steps of the 2020 plan, which is aimed at reducing poverty in South St. Petersburg by 30% in 7 years.
3. Provide $250,000 for the new Sustainable Community Projects Program, designed to empower residents to directly enhance the economy, environment, and equality of their neighborhoods
Cathy Harrelson with the Gulf Restoration Network blasted the budget proposal laid out by Mayor Foster, which she said embodies the status quo. She said with increasing costs for energy, rising sea levels, and an increase in the poverty rate, the times don't call for a status quo budget.
"This isn't the future we want, and the problem with the status quo is that it doesn't commit to an investment in St. Petersburg, because the status quo isn't where opportunities lie. Opportunities lie in change," Harrelson added.
In a policy paper that the PBR released to the media, the mayor and the city council today, the coalition offers specific suggestions as to where the city could find more revenue to pay for the programs it desires. Those ideas include taxing the city's municipal utilities "fully and fairly." By that they mean that St. Pete has chosen to tax only the "unencumbered, undepreciated value of the tangible assets held by the Stormwater, Water Resources and Sanitation utilities." PBR said adding those taxes would increase the General Fund by $2.2 million.
Other suggestions include eliminating the General Fund subsidy to the Port and Marina, using excess cash reserves to pay down the debt, and liquidating the prior year encumbrances. To read all of the coalition's goals, visit its website.
Smith said the group is non-partisan and isn't supporting any particular candidates in this November's election. However, Darden Rice, who is running for City Council in District 4 against Carolyn Fries, has been a core member of the group.
The People's Budget Review consists of members from SEIU Florida Public Services Union, the League of Women Voters, Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA), Agenda 2010 and Beyond, NAACP, Awake Pinellas, Suncoast Sierra Club, St. Pete Polls, as well as local business leaders and activists.