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Will McCarthy veto Pierce County budget?

Post by David Wickert on Nov. 11, 2009 at 1:30 pm |
November 11, 2009 6:57 pm

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy has some issues with the budget the County Council approved Tuesday evening.

Pat McCarthy
Pat McCarthy

In a statement issued today, McCarthy said the budget incorporates nearly all of the recommendations she made in September. And she said she identifies with the relief council members expressed last night as they finished the budget.

But she has two concerns:

• She questioned the council’s $1.9 million cut to the planning and land services department.

“Many economists predict the economy will turn around in the coming year, and I am concerned that this budget cut will result in a large backlog of processing permits,” McCarthy said.

Local builders also opposed the planning department cut.

• McCarthy also said the council’s budget process was not transparent enough.

“The council did not reveal its substantive changes to the budget until about 24 hours before the final vote,” she said. “As a result, there was insufficient opportunity for meaningful public input.”

The executive said she will recommend the council “improve the transparency of the budget process.”

The statement concludes with this statement:

“I have 10 days to act on the budget the Council sent to me. My team will take that time to analyze the last-minute decisions the Council made to ensure that there are no unintended consequences, such as the situation that occurred with last week’s hasty action to eliminate a Superior Court judge position.”

Is that a signal that McCarthy is considering a veto of the budget ordinance? You decide. Here’s the complete statement.

Nov. 11, 2009

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy issued the following statement about the Council’s approval of a 2010 budget:

These are very difficult times for families and businesses in Pierce County, as well as the governments that serve them. And like those families and businesses, governments must operate within their means. This budget is a beginning, not an end. My team continues to take a hard look at county services, and I expect more changes in the next year as we find new ways to make our work for the citizens of Pierce County more efficient.

On Aug. 22, I sent the Pierce County Council a proposed 2010 budget that is fiscally responsible and sustainable. It relies on conservative revenue forecasts and focuses on the priorities and services that Pierce County residents expect.

Given the gravity of the economic recession, I delivered my 420-page budget proposal a week earlier than required by the County Charter in order to give the Council more time to consider these complex issues. In recent weeks, Council members asked lots of questions about programs and priorities. They wrestled with the difficulty of maintaining core services that people expect, even in the face of declining revenues. The budget they passed incorporates nearly all of my recommendations while also including adjustments that reflect the Council’s interests. I can identify with the relief they expressed last night to have reached this stage of the process. As the Council chairman said, there is little to like in this budget.

That said, I have a couple of initial concerns about the measure that is headed to my desk:

Planning and Land Services: The Council cut an additional $1.9 million beyond my proposal, which is equal to the loss of about 22 positions. Permitting is closely linked to economic development and the creation of jobs in Pierce County. Many economists predict the economy will turn around in the coming year, and I am concerned that this budget cut will result in a large backlog in processing permits. If we have a giant backlog, then construction activity could shift to neighboring counties as the economy bounces back, thus slowing Pierce County’s recovery. Economic development and job creation are priorities for my administration, and I see the extra-large budget cut as a setback for Pierce County.

Public input: The Council did not reveal its substantive changes to the budget until about 24 hours before the final vote. As a result, there was insufficient opportunity for meaningful public input. In the coming year, I will recommend that the Council improve the transparency of the budget process. Other governmental entities, including Tacoma and other smaller cities, have a first reading of the budget and then vote at least a week later. This allows the public ample time to read and understand the proposed budget, and to offer a full measure of valuable feedback. I think the County Council will agree that having an open and transparent budget process is critical to ensuring the trust of our citizens.

I have 10 days to act on the budget the Council sent to me. My team will take that time to analyze the last-minute decisions the Council made to ensure that there are no unintended consequences, such as the situation that occurred with last week’s hasty action to eliminate a Superior Court judge position.

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