In a Tuesday work session that highlighted City Council fault lines over procedures and priorities, Council members voted to postpone action on certain "mid-year" budget items posted for action today. Votes turned less on precise expenditures than the "appropriate" way to address them.
It was an unusual meeting, in that items are seldom posted for action at Tuesday work sessions -- in this case three items involving potential "mid-year" spending, and another that would address the policy standards that would underlie any such budget adjustments. Mayor Lee Leffingwell –- who had been out of town during the previous work session that had decided to post these items -- introduced them testily, saying he considered them "inappropriate" for a work session because it meant insufficient "transparency" as well as inadequate context for a larger priority discussion.
That led to fairly tense exchanges, especially between the mayor and Council Member Kathie Tovo, who had proposed an appropriation for remodeling the kitchen in the Asian American Resource Center –- the discussion of which in fact had happened in a regular Council meeting, and for which Council sentiment appeared to be approving. She also noted that staff had found appropriate bond funding -- already approved by voters -- that applied to Parks and Recreation Department facilities, and that this funding did not affect General Fund budgeting at all. Tovo argued that this was no different than myriad appropriation approvals by Council in every regular meeting, and simply responded to a need and an equity issue previously identified by Council.
After a lengthy and increasingly theoretical policy debate about just when such interim spending is appropriate, Council voted 4-3 to reject the immediate AARC expenditure (Tovo, Laura Morrison, and Mike Martinez supporting), and 7-0 to postpone all the spending items to at least April 10, and perhaps until staff's first budget forecast, later in April.
The Council discussion and votes were taken in the shadow of an "anti-tax" press conference outside City Hall, organized by Bill Oakey of the Austinaffordability.com blog. Oakey congratulated Council on its postponements, said "We're not that far apart" on these issues, and said he would be meeting with Council members to discuss the interim spending policy -– as well as "toning down the rhetoric" on his blog.
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