Organizers with the People's Budget Review say it's all about priorities

Posted by Mitch Perry on Thu, Sep 5, 2013 at 2:48 PM

Cathy Harrelson with the Peoples Budget Review cites the latest news to question a status quo budget
  • Cathy Harrelson with the People's Budget Review cites the latest news to question a "status quo" budget
Last year in St. Petersburg, a coalition of advocacy groups united to become the People's Budget Review (PBR). Built along the lines of similar groups in the U.S., its goal is to find "the middle ground between austere cuts and raising taxes." With the St. Pete City Council poised to review and approve Mayor Bill Foster's budget by Oct. 1, the People's Budget Review is back, this time arguing for three specific proposals. They say all three proposals would cost just $450,000 to fund, and will help to invest in job training, economic development and sustainability.

"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.

Comments (1)

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Many thanks to reporter Mitch Perry and Creative Loafing/Daily Loaf for covering this important event. At least one good news organization is reporting this important story. Sadly People's Budget Review gets no coverage from the Tampa Bay Times on this in spite of the coalition's great successes last year, when City of St Pete contemplated early closure of libraries and parks in the face of deep budget shortfalls. That time PBR proved it was safe for the mayor and council members to raise property taxes a fraction enough to keep parks and libraries open in 2013, and so they did!
Oddly, in spite of that success last year, editors at the TB Times don't think PBR's 2014 proposals are important enough to report to the public. But no problem-- PBR isn't going anywhere, (unlike the ever diminishing TB Times) and the coalition's proposals will be heard in City Hall this year, and citizens will make their wishes known without the help of the SP Times... just like last year.

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Posted by Bill Bucolo on 09/06/2013 at 8:14 PM
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