The Richmond Register


April 25, 2010

Candidates need to offer specificsCandidates need to offer specifics

RICHMOND — Some candidates for city offices have expressed displeasure with our recent editorial criticizing most of them for offering few specifics at the Richmond Chamber of Commerce forum of how they would deal with the city’s budget crisis.

Of course, the one minute each candidate had to respond to questions was rather brief. Still, many of them had enough time to criticize the incumbents and offer some generalities and platitudes.

What we and the voters want to hear, however, is some specifics on how the city should address the budget deficit that could land June 20 like a falling meteor on City Hall. As of March 31, 2010, the deficit was down to under $500,000, but there are three months left to go.

Criticizing the past mistakes of others and promising to govern differently is easy. Offering themselves as fiscally responsible leaders who will be willing to make tough decisions also is easy. But, just how will these tough decisions be made?

If City Hall is to be operated like a business or household facing a significant gap between income and outgo, income must be raised, expenses cut, money borrowed or some combination of the three must be adopted.

One candidate at the forums said he believed layoffs to be inevitable and another called for pay cuts to avoid layoffs. Everyone else just seemed to avoid the issue or just whistle through the graveyard.

When personnel makes up more than two-thirds of city expenses, it is difficult to see how expenses can be lowered significantly without reducing payroll. If someone thinks they know how, we’d all like to see the plan.

True, the employees did not cause this problem. But when private sector managers create a mess, they usually lose their jobs. Unfortunately, some of their employees lose theirs as well. If new management can repair the finances, however, laid off employees can be brought back to work.

The mess at City Hall may cost the incumbents their jobs. It would be unfortunate, but some city employees may suffer as well, even if only temporarily.

Many candidates, however, seem to think public sector employees should be immune to layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts when their counterparts in the private sector are not.

Anyone who thinks the deficit will simply fade away is living in a fantasy world. We have great respect for interim City Manager Jimmy Howard’s business acumen, but he cannot fix the problem alone, especially if the city commission disregards his suggestions.

Whining about critical newspaper editorials also is easy, but that also will not pay any bills.

What we are eagerly waiting to hear is some specifics of how the candidates would deal with the budget shortfall.

If the incumbents want to redeem themselves in the voters’ eyes, they could start by mapping the road toward a balanced budget.

While it is heartening to see so many people optimistic enough to offer themselves as candidates, it has been disappointing to have so few of them offer details of how they would govern.

Any candidate unable or unwilling to do that is not deserving of votes and should not be in the race.

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