Pam's Points: New city budget offers hope, and VA change may, too

Pam's Points: New city budget offers hope, and VA change may, too

May 31st, 2014 in Opinion Times

Dollars and sense in the city

The operating budget that Mayor Andy Berke presented to Chattanoogans this week does not look like any other budget we've seen here.

Sure it has spreadsheets and columns of numbers, like before. But it also has several things we aren't accustomed to seeing in a municipal budget. It has goals -- not just bottom lines. It has committees for input and oversight -- not just bean counters. It has a promise of hundreds of Web pages with continually updated statistics on dollars spent, man-hours worked and outcomes achieved (or not achieved).

This budget funds things never tried here, too:

• An ex-offender workforce development initiative called Hope for the Inner City to help previously incarcerated men ages 18 to 25 get job training, counseling, addiction treatment and help with GEDs so they can enter the workforce and return to their community productively.

• A Chattanooga Baby College that will prepare expectant mothers and fathers to be their child's first teacher so the children can learn the language skills needed to succeed when they start school.

• A program to help more high school seniors understand how to apply for college financial aid.

• A partnership with La Paz to create a Hispanic family resource center for family violence prevention, prenatal care and nutritional resources.

These are social programs, you say? Not a city's job?

They are a city's job if they save the city some of the cost of jailing people for committing crimes. They are a city's future if they build a population that is more job-ready.

Berke's second budget completely embraces the new concept of budgeting for outcomes, a buzz-phrase for budgeting with goals, not just bottom lines.

"The best thing about budgeting for outcomes is it allows us to have a dialog throughout all of city government with everyone in government. ... The worst part is it's really time consuming," he said.

But the process asks each department and office what they want to be judged by. And that encourages them to bring their best ideas for everything from growing small businesses to raising smarter workers.

"We're raising the expectation about what the budget should do. We're doing things that have never been done," Berke said.

It's way too soon to know if it will be successful and ultimately good for the city. But it's not too soon to say it's a long overdue effort. Visit to the Chattanooga.gov website (http://www.chattanooga.gov/finance/finance-division) to skim through the 300-page budget. While on the website, read about some of the offers the city considered for safer streets and for smarter students. You will find the first real "inside" look at government funding in this city that most of us have ever seen.

Good job, city folks. And no tax increase is a cherry on top. Here's hoping the hard work and new thinking will indeed prove itself and pay off in years to come.

Who's misleading whom?

Eric Shinseki did the right thing Friday when he resigned as secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs over mounting evidence of widespread misconduct and mismanagement at the agency's network of medical facilities. He said the VA needs new leadership to address the problems, and he does not want to be a distraction.

The president, too, did the right thing in accepting Shinseki's resignation. If Shinseki, 71, was misled about the problems for these past six years, then he's not the man to fix them.

But the American people should not be misled either by the shameless partisan whine of Republicans who now can't stampede over themselves fast enough to reach a microphone.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced he will cosponsor legislation introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that would allow the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to immediately fire or demote senior executive service employees for poor job performance.

Tennessee's U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, piped up, too.

"I appreciate Secretary Shinseki's military and public service to our country, and while a change in leadership was necessary, the problems run much deeper than one person," Corker said.

Just remember that last February, Alexander and Corker joined nearly all the Republicans in the Senate to block a bill that would have provided $21 billion to enhance medical and other benefits for veterans. If the VA had enough doctors and enough nurses, there would be no long wait lists nor falsified wait lists. But the legislation that would have provided those doctors and nurses died on a vote of 56-41, with only two Republicans voting for it.

Yes, Corker, you are so right that the problems run much deeper than one person.