Stories about budget cuts are easy to tell and reaction is fierce, but the coverage is often misleading
Just about every media outlet has recently and repeatedly told San Diegans the news isn’t good – massive cuts to your libraries and rec centers are coming.
It’s a great story for the overworked journalist. Easy to report. Easy to write. Readers, who rarely respond, write strongly worded letters to the editor. This prompts more of the same stories.
All of this would be okay if the storyline was a straightforward tale about pending cuts – but this is only half the story.
How does a city decimate libraries and rec centers if the City Council is opposed? Simple: it can’t. And there’s the rub – several council members have said they don’t support the cuts Mayor Jerry Sanders is proposing to libraries and rec centers. And……(wait for it)……the Council has the final say when it comes to deciding what is and isn’t in the City’s annual budget. This authority is arguably council’s most important role.
It’s why I was fond of saying last fall – during the battle over a sales tax increase (you may have heard about it) – that the Detroit Lions would win a Super Bowl before the City Council would vote to lay off police and firefighters. I’m a lifelong Lions fan (yes, we do exist!) so I speak with authority on this nuanced topic.
It’s important to remember that the Mayor has presented a proposed budget to the Council, which now has its turn to set priorities. Public deliberations and changes will surface over the next couple months. The final version of the budget will be in place by July 1, 2011.
The Council needs to find roughly $14 million to eliminate the proposed cuts to libraries and rec centers. That’s in a budget of $1.1 billion. I would say there is a good chance the City Council can shift 1 percent of the budget to save these neighborhood services.
If I were a betting man I’d put my money on the Council preserving libraries and rec centers before I would take the Lions making the playoffs. Even if Matthew Stafford – the talented but fragile quarterback for the Lions – stays healthy, I still prefer the Council here.
If it succeeds, the media coverage will be positive, but the copy and the headlines won’t carry the same bite, meaning the impact on readers won’t be the same. This week’s batch of news stories about inevitable cuts from some (but not all) news outlets will leave taxpayers with a bad aftertaste that won’t wash away easily.
A story about the City Council preserving services never plays as well as one about massive cuts. The latter also suggests ineptness and complacency on behalf of the Council.
Councilmember Kevin Faulconer and other council leaders have made it clear they will find alternatives to these proposed cuts.
Budget cuts are a red meat story for a reporter. But, as with any meal, there is clearly more than one course to this story.