Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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Outtakes—Fiscal Discipline?

By Rick Outzen

It’s flattering when an elected official who refuses to discuss his budget in an open forum feels compelled to respond to a column in writing. Last week, my Outtakes, “For $227 million,” challenged Mayor Ashton Hayward to give a State of the City address to explain his budget for the upcoming year, as he did three times during his first term and as do the mayors of other major cities around the country.

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward last week didn’t announce any public forums or addresses. Instead, he asked the Pensacola News Journal to publish a viewpoint entitled, “Fiscal discipline helps Pensacola rise.”

Since the mayor avoids any public debate and interviews that might mess up his “trajectory” and “momentum,” I can only respond in writing.

Mayor Hayward’s FY 2018 budget projects anything but fiscal discipline. He wants to spend more on core services, such as public safety, transportation, physical environment, economic development and debt service, than any budget in the history of Pensacola. And to do so, he has borrowed against future revenues.

In his viewpoint, Mayor Hayward warns his constituents not “to relent in the endless battle to control insatiable demands for more spending,” but his FY 2018 shows that he has more than relented. He has surrendered.

During his first term, Mayor Hayward proposed cuts in government spending that let him run for re-election in 2014 on a fiscally conservative platform. He achieved the savings by giving the West Florida Regional Library system to the county and renegotiating the city and police pensions. He reduced the overall budget by $23.6 million from FY 2012 (his first budget) to FY 2015 (the budget approved before November 2014 election).

Sadly, the $23-million savings have evaporated. The FY 2018 total budget is $28.2 million more than FY 2015. Hayward has borrowed against future natural gas revenues and local option gas collections. Later this month, he will ask the Pensacola City Council to issue over $5.3 million in revenue bonds for capital improvements in the Eastside and Westside Redevelopment Districts. Reportedly, he will also borrow next year $20 million against future local option sales tax revenues.

Mayor Hayward claims his FY 2018 reflects a “new reality” without really explaining it. He says that an additional homestead exemption will go into effect next year and will impact city finances, but it hasn’t stop his borrowing as he ramps up for his 2018 re-election campaign.

He warns that the city must maintain “our fiscal discipline.” From our vantage point, “fiscal discipline” means allowing the mayor to spend whatever he wants and letting future city revenues pay the bills.