Collaboration in Civic Spheres

How $3 Billion Can Really Focus Your Attention

by Carrie Shaw July 29th, 2010

There are new three R’s of government: Reset, reinvent, and reallocate. From The Seattle Times’ Reset 2010 series on the editorial page, to Governor Christine Gregoire’s online public comment tool “Transforming Washington’s Budget” everyone at every level of government is talking about public expectations, budgets, and economic realities.

Some would call it a budget crisis and some would call it a budget correction, but everyone agrees, a looming state budget shortfall of $3 billion has a way of creating a tight focus on the problem. And it doesn’t stop with the 2011 budget cycle. Estimates for 2013-2015 have the state $5 to $6 billion in the red. It is an unprecedented problem, and unlike the federal government, states can’t print more money as a temporary fix.

The outlook for King County isn’t good either, with red ink projected upwards of $60 million for the upcoming 2011 budget. That’s a lot of money and has people asking the question, “where does the $5 billion King County spends actually go?” Below are pie charts from the King County website that show 87 percent goes to dedicated funds (top one) and about 13 percent goes toward the general fund for public safety, law, and justice (second pie).

The good news is that all this red ink is giving “we the people” an opportunity to rewrite how things are done with unprecedented access to information and civic engagement tools. At the time of this posting, there are now over 1,700 “ideas” currently posted on the governor’s new website. King County continues to take steps to provide more effective public engagement tools and has recently integrated the small discussion group model known as Countywide Community Forums (CCF) into the county’s Strategic Plan.

This fall, the county budget and taxes will be the main topics for the CCF small group discussions and online survey during the month of Sept, and Oct. Titled Citizen Priorities for Government in Challenging Economic Times, key areas for discussion and feedback include; prioritizing county services; living within the existing budget; and long-term revenue issues and taxes.

Too often large town hall meetings on budget issues become pep rallies for special interest groups. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was quoted on Washington State Wire about a recent budget town hall meeting, saying, “It sounded very much like our typical budget hearings.”

The adage, “it’s always easier to raise someone else’s taxes or cut the other guys program,” often becomes group-speak at these large forums. But to really reinvent how government delivers services and approaches budget priorities is a much bigger challenge.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, to reinvent means to remake or redo completely, or to make as if for the first time

The application of that meaning to actual reinvent how government works takes courage and deeper levels of public participation. Fortunately for us, we live in an age where that is truly possible.

One Response to “How $3 Billion Can Really Focus Your Attention”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by RVLcommunity, CommunityForums.org. CommunityForums.org said: Budgets in the red- where does the $5 billion King County spends actually go? Where do you think it should go? http://bit.ly/bsVGSP [...]