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...And Dems Battle Dems Over City Budget

Innocent council budget staff gets caught in the crossfire

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The inter-party bickering in the county is nothing compared to the scrapping in Democrats-only City Hall. There, council factions and Mayor Tom Murphy are debating whether to try to balance next year's proposed $396 million budget by raising taxes and cutting spending, or leave it short $40 million in hopes of being designated a distressed municipality by the state. Such a designation, which Murphy has requested, can enable contract concessions and commuter taxes.

 

One area of contention has been the role of the council budget office. That four-person office traditionally presents an overview of the mayor's budget to council, and then acts as council's analyst during the month-long negotiations with the mayor's office. This year, though, Council Finance Committee Chairman Sala Udin -- a close Murphy ally -- gave the opening overview, and argued that running a deficit now might be the path to distressed status and better times later. "Because this is a particularly difficult budget, I decided to do it," Udin says.

 

E-mails obtained by City Paper chronicle a behind-the-scenes dispute over the role of the budget office. Councilor Jim Motznik asked the budget office to prepare a list of options for balancing the budget, according to the e-mails. Udin shot back on Nov. 20, accusing some councilors of "gamesmanship," and telling all of his colleagues that, "[U]sing the Council Budget staff in this process alienates them from certain members of council, alienates them from the Finance Chair, and may eventually alienate them from their jobs!" Udin is expected to run for council president in January, and if successful he'd control the budget office.

 

Motznik responded hours later that he was using the budget staff openly and appropriately to scrutinize the mayor's second unbalanced budget in as many years. "I listened to the Mayor's crap last year and wouldn't make that mistake again," he wrote.

 

Udin won't comment on the e-mails, other than to say he wasn't implying that budget office staffers are in danger of losing their jobs.

 

By Nov. 25, Council Budget Director Scott Kunka was back at the council table, though he was uncertain what his role would be going forward. Udin, meanwhile, scheduled early-morning meetings to discuss the possibility of balancing the budget, though he told City Paper he was "not certain whether or not if we balance the budget on the backs of city taxpayers that makes us ineligible for [distressed status]."

 

"If we could make a no-stampede, no ambush agreement, I think we could get [the budget] done," Udin told council Nov. 24. But if the tug-of-war over the council budget office is any indication, suspicions run deep.

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