The fiscal year 2012 budget season has officially begun and at a recent work session, one city official repeatedly expressed the desire for a no-cost budget. Others talked about being business-friendly (read, low business taxes) and hard choices (read, cuts to social benefits). This is the conversation as we enter another year of an economic crisis that has left many of our friends and neighbors jobless, families homeless, libraries and recreation center services diminished and the education of our children underfunded.
Budgets are a question of priorities and the idea that one could be no-cost is false. We will either meet societal goals and tackle tough problems by including them in the budget or we pay for them with the health, education and opportunity of some Alexandrians. If we cut the budget for programs that ensure the well-being of our community in order to achieve a no-cost budget, we are undercutting the concrete substance of the principles of liberty and justice that underpin our democracy and our societys success.
Already this year, Alexandrians are facing governmental efforts to abdicate its responsibility to the community it serves. Two examples are the recent attempt to convert the Torpedo Factory board and the new partnership between a public health facility, the Flora Krause Casey Clinic and Alexandria Neighborhood Health Services, Inc., a nonprofit clinic.
In the first case, the city has chosen to emphasize the profit-making potential of the institution over the cultural value it brings to the city. In the latter, the city is enabling a public health institution to pass its patient load off to a federally backed clinic (that is already overloaded) without an explicit dedication of increased funds to offset this additional burden.
What will the ultimate cost be to Alexandria for the short-term benefit of increased revenue generated by changes in the Torpedo Factory? And in terms of health care, through the new partnership we are watching the slow-motion erosion of the public health component of government. And this is only the beginning of the budget process in a city that ranks among the top 25 most affluent counties/independent cities in the country!
With a mean annual household income of more than $80,000, Alexandria can well afford to take care of its residents and preserve the cultural and artistic gems that characterize this city. As we move forward through this budget process, I urge Alexandrias elected officials to remember the simple, basic things that must never be lost in the turmoil and challenges ahead. As for the rest of us, we must be prepared to put our democracy and community ahead of the pocketbook.
The writer is director of communications for Tenants and Workers United in Alexandria.