News from Patrick Flynn

Budget redux

Having just completed my first run through the Anchorage budget as an Assembly member I found the process both fulfilling and wanting. On the former point, the Assembly worked closely with municipal staff in a deliberate and orderly manner that allowed each member visibility into the process, whether they served on the Budget & Finance committee or not. The result was an informed discussion and effective efforts to reduce spending in numerous areas. On the latter point, I was disappointed that several Assembly members waited until the final debate to suggest that the budget should undergo major structural changes in order to weather what they foresee as dark economic times.

I certainly agree that the United States, and perhaps the entire world, is either in or on the precipice of a recession. And while we are fortunate that Anchorage, as Business Week noted, is among the safest cities to ride out this recession, it is prudent to plan for the worst. So why did my colleagues who consider themselves to be conservatives not offer concrete plans, or even raise the subject, until the final debate? (In fairness three members offered amendments that, had they been approved, would have decreased the budget slightly. But I didn’t feel that, for example, cutting $25,000 from Health & Human Servicescontraception program, which primarily benefits less-affluent women, would have a positive economic effect.)

As noted before, I try to avoid speculating as to someone else’s intent. In an effort to avoid this pitfall, I’ll instead try to put myself in the shoes of those who voted against the budget. If I were to have voted against the budget for the reasons presented last night my reason(s) would have been some combination of the following:

  1. The belief that the Anchorage economy is headed for a massive downturn which will reduce property values and diminish our capacity to raise the revenue necessary to support the budget.
  2. The belief that we need to drastically reduce spending and services, but that the Anchorage population is not yet ready to accept the service reductions.
  3. The desire to alter Anchorage’s source of revenue by implementing new income streams, like a sales tax, but being unsure whether Anchorage citizens support that move.
  4. The hope that displaying a contrasting vision for Anchorage might help a fellow “conservative” get elected mayor in April.

If those reasons played a part in the thinking of those who voted against the budget then I confess to being somewhat puzzled. Each of those reasons seems to ignore, to varying degrees, that last year’s Assembly, which included the same five members who voted against the budget as well as the leading “conservative” mayoral candidate, voted for a 2009 spending plan that was $7 million higher. In other words if budget detractors on the Assembly, past and present, think spending is too high then I think they need to explain why they allowed it to reach this level.

That said, I’m ready and willing to discuss how we could structure a sales tax that would minimize its regressive elements and provide dollar-for-dollar reductions in property taxes. I’m also willing to rank city expenditures in order of importance so we have a plan for where to cut should reduced revenues make that necessary. If we’re going to talk about cutting property taxes then we also need to do the work necessary to make that a reality.

Make no mistake, I believe that downward pressure on government expenditures is the duty of every elected official and I said no to numerous groups who approached me seeking budget increment support. I also explained that a provision in the upcoming APDEA contract, which is scheduled for consideration on December 16, that uses tax dollars to compensate their president might result in my voting against ratification. In other words, I believe it’s important to balance the desire for increased spending against the impacts, both positive and negative, upon taxpayers.

With that, I’d be delighted to hear from readers on this subject. Is Anchorage spending too much, too little or about right? Do you support replacing some property tax revenues with sales tax revenues or some other source? If you support cutting, where would your first cuts be and how would you explain them to stakeholders? If you’d spend more, what would you spend it on and how would you explain it to taxpayers? Let’s talk.



This contribution was made on Wednesday, 26. November 2008 at 15:47 and was published under the category Other. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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  1. Mr. Webster certainly makes some inflammatory remarks in his post. I will limit my comments to simply responding with actual facts to his wildly speculative interpretation.

    With regards to being familiar with the APD budget due to his experience as a Police Sergeant, I will counter that my experience as a Police Sergeant has indicated that this is very unlikely. The sergeants at APD are first line supervisors, responsible for assigning work to police officers, managing staffing at the direction of their Lieutenant (a managerial position), investigating citizen complaints, and initial incident management in the field. Nothing about this position includes management of the police budget. The first level of management at APD that actively participates in budgeting is the Lieutenant position. This has not changed since Mr. Webster worked at APD. In fact, it is likely that his lack of understanding of the budgeting process and costs of operation made his suggested plan for saving staff costs unfeasible and thus rejected by the command staff. Since one of the primary functions of detectives is to interface with the prosecuting agencies, having them work only at night would at the very least hamper their ability to do this.

    Suggesting that the city reduce the level of service provided by the police department, which could then result in a reduction of the cost of providing police service, is not consistent with the expressed desires of the community as a whole. In the recent Anchorage Community Survey conducted by the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center, citizens responded that they wanted better police intervention in their neighborhood through improved visibility and enforcement of the law (Evans, 2008). This survey also indicated that 71.9% of the respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with police service. This does not suggest that cuts to police service would be popular with the community.

    The inference that somehow the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the city and the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association (APDEA) somehow represents a significant pay increase simply is not true. First and most importantly, the 12.45% increase for the current CBA that Mr. Webster mentions is not the correct figure. Since the wage increases are cumulative, the total increases throughout the contract cannot simply be added together and result in a total. However, even if this were the case Mr. Webster would still be incorrect. For clarification, I will list the wage increases proscribed in the current CBA between the city and APDEA, along with some relevant economic data. Please pardon the format this will be in, since this blog type commenting does not allow elaborate text formatting. In 2005 there was a 3.3% pay increase in the CBA, which was accompanied by a 3.1% CPI increase during the same year. In 2006, another 3.3% pay increase, but again followed by a 3.2% CPI increase. For 2007, the 3.4% pay increase was accompanied by a 2.2% CPI increase (Fried & Robinson, 2008). In 2008 there were two 2% pay increases, one in March and one in July. So far in 2008, the CPI for anchorage is up 4.6% (United States Department of Labor ); additionally we have seen some of the highest energy cost increases in history. Also during the time frame of the current CBA, housing prices have continued to rise, with a 4% increase in 2006 alone (Fried & Robinson, 2008). When viewed in conjunction with the relevant economic data, it is easily seen that wages have essentially remained flat since the increases have kept nearly even with the CPI. The proposed CBA between APDEA and the city maintains these cost of living types of increases, with the exception of a performance pay incentive which is in line with AMC 3.30.181. Additionally, instead of dictating a set wage increase annually, the proposed contract actually basis the increase on the actual CPI as seen in Anchorage. Overall, this is a fair contract between the city and APDEA, and the length of the contract ensures stability and saves both parties money by reducing the amount of time spent negotiating and in arbitration.

    Mr. Webster goes on to mention that he would have done his job for “for a lot less money. I can’t begin to imagine what his motivation could be for making such a statement, so I will not speculate on it. However, I know Mr. Webster and at one point worked for him as a police officer. I never remember him once mentioning that he felt he was over paid at the time of his employment, nor do I remember him attempting to give money back to the city or campaigning to lower police wages. To make this statement after his retirement, frankly lacks credibility.

    I speak here not as a representative of APD, or even of APDEA, but as a concerned citizen. Through my education and experience, I know that public policy decisions must be based on sound information and with the intent of doing the greatest good for the community. Mr. Flynn, I would strongly urge you to consider the facts and beware the few squeaky wheels who would attempt to cloud this issue to further their personal agendas. I think I have shown that Mr. Webster’s comments lack any real factual substance, and can be disregarded.

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment here,

    Justin Doll

    Evans, S. L. (2008). The anchorage community survey, 2007 executive summary University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center.
    Fried, N., & Robinson, D. (2008). The cost of living in alaska. Alaska Economic Trends, 28(7), 4.
    United States Department of Labor. ANCHORAGE CONSUMER PRICES 4.6 PERCENT HIGHER THAN A YEAR AGO. Retrieved 12/4, 2008, from

    Comment: Justin Doll – 04. December 2008 @ 1:45 pm

  2. I agree with Justin Doll’s description that Mr. Webster’s letter has some inacuracies. I replaced Mr. Webster as the sergeant of the APD Robbery-Assault Unit. My Leiutenant and I reviewed Mr. Webster’s proposed change in the Robbery-Assault detective’s work schedule, moving to a swing shift configuration. For one trimester we moved the unit to swing shift. We discovered no significant savings. The CBA requires a 3% shift differental to be paid to all officers and detectives working on swing shift. We also were required to pay overtime to our detectives for court obligations which always occur during traditional day shift hours. Mr Webster’s projected $4,500 in savings for the department did not materialize.

    Gil Davis

    Comment: Gil Davis – 05. December 2008 @ 11:35 am

  3. […] labor contracts.  Some favor added spending, some want to see cuts but very few have risen to my challenge to describe how they would proceed from a macro perspective.  So I’ll get more […]

    Pingback: Patrick Flynn’s Blog » Paying our way | – 12. December 2008 @ 12:34 pm

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