A new era for Sacramento’s budget

By Kevin Johnson

Special to The Bee

June 08, 2015 04:30 PM

Mayor Kevin Johnson stands on stage after his State of the City address in January, when he announced he would take a bigger role in putting together the city budget. Jose Luis Villegas jvillegas@sacbee.com
Mayor Kevin Johnson stands on stage after his State of the City address in January, when he announced he would take a bigger role in putting together the city budget. Jose Luis Villegas jvillegas@sacbee.com

There’s a saying that “it’s better not to see how the sausage gets made.” For many years in Sacramento, that is how we approached the creation of the city budget. The role of the mayor and City Council members was to react to the budget produced by the city manager; they were not fully engaged in the process.

In this new era in our city, called “Sacramento 3.0,” we strive to be an inclusive and transparent government. That’s why I worked with my council colleagues and the city manager to outline a new process to ensure the budget that I believe will be passed Tuesday night is based on the priorities of our constituents.

In February, we conducted a citywide poll and held a meeting with 80 community leaders. The findings showed the top three priorities are public safety, infrastructure and economic development. The proposed 2015-16 budget directly reflects this input.

In public safety, the city will add 43 new positions to the Police Department, fund a gang prevention task force and create a hiring program to increase diversity in the police force. We are also adding 15 firefighters, building a new fire station and bringing two new ambulances online.

We are upgrading Sacramento’s infrastructure, as well. To speed up the installation of water meters, $20 million has been allocated. An additional $4 million will go toward civic amenities such as parks, pools and sidewalks. And we are addressing basic needs, including street improvements, traffic signals, bike paths and street lighting.

This budget includes efforts to create jobs by diversifying our economy and fostering a business-friendly environment. We’ve funded a Central City Master Plan that will strengthen our urban core. We also joined the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council, an effort to make the region globally competitive. We have retooled the Innovation and Growth Fund to invest in public-private partnerships in technology.

Furthermore, the budget gives the mayor’s office additional capacity to focus on several key initiatives: developing the downtown railyard, building a new soccer stadium, adding 10,000 housing units downtown over the next 10 years, convening a minimum wage task force, continuing to focus on community policing and focusing on key relationships in Washington, D.C., that will bring more federal money to Sacramento.

It was not long ago that we were in the midst of a financial crisis. When I was first elected in 2008, the city’s rainy-day fund had decreased from 9.1 percent of the general fund budget in 2004-05 to just 2.7 percent. The city’s revenue fell by $60 million from 2008-09 to 2012-13 and the deficit rose to $50 million. We were forced to cut about $243 million in services and eliminate 1,311 full-time city positions.

Based on this history, we have approached this budget in a fiscally responsible manner. We have ensured a surplus for the second straight year. We are addressing long-term liabilities to improve the city’s credit rating, growing our Economic Uncertainty Reserve and maintaining a healthy fund balance in the Measure U sales tax. While there are issues that still must be addressed, including pension and labor costs, we are in a much stronger fiscal position today than we have been in years.

As I said during my State of the City speech in January, this budget reflects what the community believes is most important. It took a lot of hard work from the council, city manager and city staff to build this budget, and I believe it is one the community will be proud of. Our constituents have not only had the chance to see how the sausage gets made, but now have had a real hand in making it. That’s good for Sacramento.

Kevin Johnson is mayor of Sacramento.