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Letter: The School Budget Process, Democracy and Transparency

I recently received information that our lawmakers are considering changing the contingency budget law. If this data is correct, the proposed change will mean that a defeated budget will drive a “contingency” budget in its place, but instead of the contingency budget allowing for a 0.4 percent decrease from the prior year’s budget, it will necessitate a 3.07 percent increase.

I ask, what is happening to democracy? Why vote a budget at all if at the end of the day the budget must increase by 3.07 percent anyway. Most spending entities, by the way, govern their potential increases by their increases in revenue and/or their decreases in expenses. If, in the above scenario, the expenditures would increase by 3.07 percent; then who is determining that the taxpayers, collectively, have increased their income by that amount. I would submit that budgets should not increase beyond the collective increases of taxpayers’ net income.

In addition, as I understand it, a budget has to be voted down twice before the contingency option is triggered. Why is this? If it passes the first time, do we have to vote and pass it a second time before it is approved?

Thirdly, as I understand it, contracts are negotiated and approved prior to the budget. Why is this? It seems we first should approve a budget (although if the changes noted above are completed, it probably won’t matter anyway) and then negotiate contracts because then we will know, collectively, how much we can afford.

Fourthly, it was recently announced in the Manhasset Press that the settlement regarding the transportation issues will have no effect on the 2010-11 budget or any budget thereafter since the funds for the settlement have been “accrued.” I do not understand this concept. If it is meant that prior years’ surpluses are present and that those funds can now be used for this settlement, then it means that we have overpaid our taxes for all of those years, without knowing it. Secondly, it has an effect on present and all future budgets if proposals for present and/or future year’s budgets are based on a percent increase over the prior years. The cost to us, the taxpayer, is that the base upon which those dollar increases, as a percent, are calculated come from a base that was higher than it needed to be; therefore every year we pay for it.

It seems to me that if my data and assumptions are correct, the taxpayer is poorly represented in this whole process, and basically has no rights, no say, and no negotiating stance (we can’t even vote down a budget since it would increase anyway if this becomes the law and practice). The only thing, apparently that is wanted, is for the taxpayers to foot the bill.

I submit that there should be a better way to handle these affairs and give the bill-paying taxpayers some needed objective representation in the process.

Paul Drezner