The process of creating a viable and responsible state budget is sidetracked, which is very unfortunate given the states tepid economic recovery. Make no mistake: Balancing our budget on quick, short-term fixes, or circumventing the states spending cap puts our long-term economic health at risk.

There are huge ramifications. The lack of a viable budget probably means a downgrade in the states bond rating, which will unnecessarily increase our borrowing costs. It would also undermine business confidence and arguably provide further incentives for business out-migration. Wed become less competitive as tax burdens become onerous.



Even in normal circumstances, school boards often struggle to craft spending plans largely dictated by state funding formulas. This year, they face the task without any hard numbers as a starting point.

Its exceedingly difficult, Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego said. Were not a for-profit company with excess reserves to rely upon.

School districts begin their fiscal year July 1, although they dont have to adopt a budget until September. That means they regularly operate each fall on tentative plans, using money carried over from the previous year.

Districts also routinely face changes in their state revenue, as their enrollments ebb and flow between official student counts.

The difference now is that lawmakers have not settled issues such as how much money schools will get per student and whether districts will share tax money dedicated to construction and renovation costs with charter schools.

Usually, school boards spend May and June writing their line-by-line spending plans, using legislative budgets as a guide. State law requires them to get the heavy lifting done in time to publish their proposed tax rates within 29 days of receiving a taxable value certification from property appraisers, which comes no later than July 1.

Yet, the Legislature appears unlikely to convene a budget special session until June. The disrupted timetable is less of a concern for county and municipal governments, which start their new fiscal years Oct. 1.

But, for school districts, the issue is more pressing. And the disconnect between the information they need and what they have is frustrating superintendents.

It creates a little bit of chaos in our budgeting process, said Broward County superintendent Robert Runcie. Schools are on a cycle. We have to give them their budgets, so they can determine what programs to offer, how many teachers to hire. The only thing we can do now is go on last years budget, which means zero new investment in public schools.

Added Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning: We cant spend money we dont have. It cant just be on paper.

Right now, thats where the budget sits -- on paper, in pencil, without resolution.

Even so, House Budget chairman Rep. Richard Corcoran said school officials have nothing to fear and should move forward as they normally would with their budget-building process.

I feel confident that the FEFP will go up, the Pasco County Republican said, referencing the Florida Education Finance Program formula that is used to award state tax dollars to local school districts.

With state economists projecting a $1 billion budget surplus late last year, education spending seemed sure to receive a boost.

The budget proposals from the House, Senate and Republican Gov. Rick Scott all increased per-student spending -- even while accounting for a projected spike in enrollment. Scott wanted to set spending at $7,176 per student, about $50 more than the record high from 2007-08.

That amount fell into doubt in February, when the federal government confirmed it would not renew a key hospital funding program known as the Low Income Pool in its current form.

State health care officials are hoping the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will approve a proposed successor to the LIP program. But, if the negotiations fall through, Florida could be facing a $1.3billion hole in its health care budget.

How lawmakers would plug the potential gap is anyones guess.

Neither Scott nor the House is anxious to use surplus money. Both have proposed tax-cut packages of nearly $700 million. The more moderate Senate also wants to cut taxes, but concedes it might not be possible this year.

Because education spending accounts for nearly one-third of the overall $80 billion budget, it would be a likely target if lawmakers need to cut spending.

Last month, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, offered to use $200 million in state money to help the hospitals. Of that total, $120 million came from K-12 spending.

The Senate rejected the offer.

Knowing all this, districts are proceeding cautiously.

Lobbyists for Hillsborough County schools recently told their School Board to begin budgeting using the current years figures and projecting for growth. That effort would account for added funding, but not count on the highest numbers tossed around in Tallahassee committee rooms.

Hernandos budget team will build its recommendations on the districts current funding calculations, as well.

Grego said he intended to have a draft budget to the Pinellas School Board by June 26, if possible. He planned to start the process by looking at where lawmakers left off. The Senate agreed on April 24 to match the House per-student funding proposal, but only if the House agreed to expand Medicaid.

Then, Grego said, he will pick a middle position, start drafting and do a lot of hoping.

Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho sounded more optimistic. He said the situation was obviously not optimal.

But considering what we know about the original intentions of the governor, the House and the Senate, we have a fairly good idea of where the budget is likely to end up, he said.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (813) 909-4614. Follow @jeffsolochek.



Update, May 5: The staff report appears to have been missing some key information. Heres some additional context from the housing element itself: Since January 1, 2014 through present (September 1, 2014), the City has issued building permits for 137 dwelling units. Additionally, between January 1, 2014 and September 1, 2014, Berkeley has approved conditional use permits for an additional 165 housing units. There are another 1,103 dwelling units approved within the City over the past decade that have not yet been exercised (ie building permits have not been issued).

On April 30, city spokesman Matthai Chakko also provided some further clarification: Units proposed or simply in the planning process are not enough. The City accounts for the units that qualify for our regional allocation (RHNA) in the Housing Element based upon the issuance of a building permit. That said, the Housing Element has not been updated to account for all building permits issued. The Housing Element is a static document intended for State certification. The City reports yearly updates of permits to the State separately.

PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING Councilman Kriss Worthington has a proposal on the action calendar to let citizens help decide how the city spends its money. Worthington says seven US cities, including San Francisco and Vallejo, have used the process as part of their budgeting. He says its a good model: The participatory budgeting program will have a positive impact on the budgetary process in Berkeley by encouraging residents to become more involved in local politics, deepening democracy, empowering communities, making budgeting more effective, and ultimately improving the overall quality of community services and public infrastructures. Read more about the city budget in general, and learn about Worthingtons proposal.

ONLINE COUNCIL COMMENTS Worthington also would like to allow the public to submit comments online for council items. If approved, his proposal would ask the city manager to create an online form people could fill out to make comments without needing to be present at council meetings. Shoreline, Washington, has a similar system in place. Read more.

SOLAR TASKFORCE Worthington has a proposal on the action calendar (carried over from the last meeting) suggesting that the city should set a goal of getting 50% of its energy from solar power by 2030. The city would establish a "solar taskforce" to plan how to make that happen. See the item.

The worksession

COMMUNITY AGENCY FUNDING In this weeks worksession, at 5:30 pm, council will receive a report from Jane Micallef of the citys Health, Housing amp; Community Services Department on community agency funding for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Micallefs report outlines city spending on service organizations and grants. The report is broken down by category: homelessness, youth services, anti-poverty services and housing. According to the staff report, 61 agencies applied for more than $10.7 million in funding for 120 programs. The city manager has recommended a 3% increase in funding for those two years, for a total of about $7.7 million. From the report: All currently funded community agency and City projects in the housing category will continue to receive their current allocations, but the city manager has recommended that $45,000 for Youth Spirit Artworks be shifted to the citys Housing Trust Fund. The city has declined to fund four new anti-poverty proposals, and is recommending a 10% across-the-board reduction in that category -- in addition to some other cuts -- to stay within the funding available. The city is also working to create a new one-stop shop for homelessness services. Read the report.

Consent calendar and information items

WATER REDUCTIONS There are two items on the agenda related to Californias ongoing water problem: a proposal from Councilman Jesse Arreguín to reduce municipal water usage by 25% of 2013 levels, and an information report on existing municipal water restrictions. The city reduced water use by 26% from April through June 2014 compared to the same period in 2012 and 2013, primarily due to work on its irrigation systems. According to Arreguín, water consumption is expected to increase when those systems are back online, so he is asking the city to commit to the 25% reduction, in line with a recent executive order by Gov. Jerry Brown to reduce water usage by 25% of 2013 levels. The city already pledged to reduce water use by 10%. Thus far, it has shortened watering times, fixed leaks and done some one-time improvements to achieve the current reductions. Municipal water usage accounts for just 2% of the citys water consumption, according to officials. To put it another way, of the more than 4 billion gallons of water used in Berkeley each year, the city uses 83 million gallons.

RAILROAD QUIET ZONE IN WEST BERKELEY Council members Darryl Moore and Linda Maio have put forward an item to use county Measure BB money to create a railroad quiet zone for West Berkeley. A feasibility study was completed in 2008 to look at what it would take to make that potential a reality, and officials say the county now has the money to do it. Read the report.

INDIANA BOYCOTT Council members Moore and Lori Droste are urging the city to Impose a moratorium on any publicly funded all non-essential travel to Indiana and, if not repealed, urging the City Manager to refrain from entering into new contracts and consider discontinuing existing contracts with businesses headquartered in Indiana. The reason? Indianas approach to religious freedom. Earlier this month, Mayor Tom Bates put out the following statement about Indianas approach to religious freedom and its implications for discrimination: I hope my fellow citizens will join the growing boycott of Indiana as long as its intolerant Religious Freedom Restoration Act remains in effect. I find it abhorrent that a state would enact legislation allowing businesses and individuals to claim religion as an excuse to discriminate against people who are gay. Such a law promotes intolerance and permits a persons rights to be violated on the basis of sexual orientation. I ask that people not travel to Indiana or do business with companies that are headquartered there as long as this injustice continues. Read the council report.

See what else the Berkeley City Council has been up to in recent Berkeleyside coverage.

Meeting details

A recent proposal by Councilmember Kriss Worthington to the Berkeley City Council would, if passed, make Berkeley the eighth city in the United States to implement participatory budgeting.

Participatory budgeting intends to enable citizens to have a voice in deciding how public money is spent. Community members would discuss how to allocate funds on projects "proposed by the residents for city improvement," according to its City Council agenda item.

"The participatory budgeting program will have a positive impact on the budgetary process in Berkeley by encouraging residents to become more involved in local politics, deepening democracy, empowering communities, making budgeting more effective," said the agenda item.

This process has been integrated into municipal budgeting in more than 1,500 cities worldwide, mostly in Latin America and Europe.

Though participatory budgeting varies from city to city, the basic process remains the same.

"In reality, participatory budgeting (of the Vallejo and San Francisco character) doesn't really involve "budgeting" at all, in the traditional sense," said Larry A. Rosenthal, an assistant adjunct professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy, in an email. "Rather, it's a community-led social grants process."

Communities host meetings in which members of the community come together to brainstorm possible projects for which the funds can be used. This list of projects is narrowed down to several top choices, for which feasibility and design are assessed by volunteer budget delegates and experts in order to develop project proposals. Members of the community then vote at a city assembly for the project they feel would benefit the city most. This vote encompasses all city residents, not only registered voters, and would include community members such as undocumented immigrants.

Rosenthal warned against the perception that participatory budgeting is implemented to fix a broken system, rather than augment it.

"In its current state of development participatory budgeting is promoted and practiced as an enhancement of traditional sociopolitical and policy processes, not a replacement," Rosenthal said in an email.

If City Council votes to approve the proposal, Berkeley will join San Francisco and Vallejo, California, making it the third city in the Bay Area to utilize this process.

San Francisco's introduction to participatory budgeting came in 2013, when the city's then-District 3 supervisor David Chiu felt the system would help representatives discern the concerns and interests of residents, according to Julie Christensen, current supervisor for San Francisco's third district.

The city's pilot program put $100,000 of discretionary funds to a vote, and the results yielded American with Disabilities Act compliance assistance for small businesses, traffic light synchronization and back rent assistance for those in danger of eviction, among other projects. Since then, participatory budgeting has expanded to San Francisco's seventh and 10th districts.

The council will hear Worthington's proposal at its Tuesday meeting.

Contact Ivana Saric at [emailprotected] and follow her on Twitter @ivanas26.