Had it been a movie the camera would have slowly zoomed in on Tom Smith’s eyes. With eyebrows raised, with furled brow, barely contained aggression was written all over his face. The camera pans now past a confused Tom Didier, past Marty Bender who is counting his shoelaces and to a tense John Crawford. His eyebrows are also raised, the lines on his forehead are pronounced and high. His eyes are bugging just enough to show his muted anger. It is the sort of confrontation Richard Attenborough often describes on Nature when two bush monkeys are fighting over turf, or a bush monkey female. The two big council males stared at each other and politely fought over a very important bit of turf, the Legacy Fund, and specifically over how council will act on the bill coming down next week from the mayor that will offer specific projects to be undertaken.
Councilman Dr. John Crawford, you see, wants to plug budget gaps with the money, while Council President Tom Smith adamantly wants to move forward with the package. Mr. Smith, you see, was deeply involved in the Legacy Process from the very beginning. He knows that thousands of average citizens were involved at one point or another in creating the package that will hit the table next Tuesday. He believes this was a community-wide project that could hardly have been done more fairly or more openly and the result of the two-year long process is about as clearly the will of the people as anything done by government in recent memory.
Dr. Crawford on the other hand, was not involved in the process, but sees looming budget deficits, annual maintenance budgetary shortfalls and other normal expenses of government that are unmet, so he wants to fill those gaps with the Legacy Fund. Mr. Smith counters that Crawford is just putting a band-aid over a crack in the dike. He feels that structural deficits should be solved with structural cures, otherwise every year there will be more demands on the Legacy until it is all gone. Rather the squander your inheritance approach. Smith suggests the alternative of cut, cut, cut to make the budget balance.
Unfortunately, as we hear daily from Europe and Greece is that you can not cut your way to prosperity. It is like turning down the heat to 50 degrees to save enough money to get through the winter, and cutting back on gas, and cutting back on clothing and cutting back on meals to the point where there is nothing more to cut. Instead, the Henry Administration is approaching the Legacy Fund as an investment designed to increase our income. Fine to cut waste, but we should also get a job that pays more.
That is the fight and Smith is adamant to carry the package through without the death by a thousand cuts process that Dr. Crawford advocates where each individual proposal is amended to death. Eye brows will rise again next week, brows will be furled and Marty Bender will continue quietly counting.
There was also a discussion of health benefits for city employees. Again, Dr. Crawford was front and center. He demanded to know why the city hasn’t changed its insurance policy to essentially punish smokers and others who have self-destructive life styles. A representative from the city blamed the unions, but promised they would be part of the 2013 negotiations. Dr. Crawford reminded everyone watching that we are approaching our own little fiscal cliff of sorts where revenues from the state are projected to dive like the Baron’s Fokker. Over and over again we are told that tax income redistributed by the state back to cities and counties will collapse in 201, but no one is quite sure how much. It is becoming an urban legend that is feeding on itself to grow in scope and threat. But, his point is correct: smoking is self-destructive. If someone wishes to kill themselves at a more rapid pace, especially after all of the warnings, then let them, but they should not enjoy the same rates as someone who exercises, eats the diet of the Dalai Lama and chants mantras while in the lotus position at his new age desk…
And the other theme last night was savings. The first four or five city “witness” there to testify about one spending bill or another before council all said they had managed to save a hundred thousand here and a couple hundred thousand there. There were rounds of silent applause from council members for the city fleet manager who boasted that he had gotten 18 years service out of a vehicle that normally should last ten or so years and had driven a great deal to find its replacement. Do Pass! Unanimous approval. It seems from causal observation that most city employees and department heads have taken Smith’s advice to heart, to find every way possible to cut. Further cuts will result in service cuts, so as Dr. Crawford said with the vague shadow of 2014 hanging over the table, we will soon be confronted with deciding what we can and can’t afford from our government.
On the other hand, the administration is counting on the Legacy money to give the city a shot in the economic development arm that will draw bright entrepreneurs to Fort Wayne or keep our best and brightest in town to live here, play here and create wealth from here that will spread to us all.
Smith remembers when the downtown was crowded every night of the week, where two major high schools added to the vibrancy, where the Grand Leader and the Boston Store competed with W&Ds and Hutner’s Paris and Baker’s Shoes. Like many, many people he is tired of waiting for another plan, for another promise. So, he is going to push the Legacy package through with all the power he has, including raised eyebrows and furled brows and an occasional hissed threat. At the moment, he is Attenborough’s dominant male in the tribe.