When I took office last year, I made three commitments about the city’s budget. I made the commitment to cut wasteful spending and build a smarter government that does more with less. I committed to use our savings and increased revenues from a recovering economy to lower taxes. And I made the commitment not to accelerate any tax cut if the result hurt our public’s safety.
We’ve made significant strides in the past 14 months. Voters approved a pension reform measure that will save the city nearly $600 million.
Our Innovation and Efficiency Task Force continues to find necessary savings, bringing its total saved to $63 million. And I’ve kept my promise to have Phoenix government do more with less, keeping core services intact despite a city workforce that per capita is our smallest in 40 years.
We have more work ahead, of course. The economic recovery continues to sputter — currently the city’s incoming revenues stand about $20 million short of projections — and serving 1.4 million residents with a workforce that’s lost more than 2,500 position in four years remains a serious challenge.
Still, I knew there would be challenges ahead when I took this job. Like the challenge I faced last month, when, after months of preparation, our city manager showed the City Council two budgets side-by-side.
One kept public safety in Phoenix intact. It kept libraries and recreation centers open on a regular schedule and necessary services flowing to victims of domestic violence and child abuse.
In the other budget — the one that accelerated the end of the tax — Phoenix would have to eliminate more than 100 police officers, plus shutter half the city’s after-school programs. We’d have to close five recreation centers, slash the schedule for the Burton Barr Library, and cut $550,000 from domestic violence and child advocacy programs.
This final choice was difficult. While this temporary levy represents $2 per week for the average Phoenix family, for residents living near poverty, that money means more than a Big Mac or a cup of coffee.
I haven’t forgotten how my family struggled growing up, how my mom, a teacher, and my dad, a shoe salesman, fought week after week to put food on the table for our family of six.
In the end, in a city that hasn’t hired a police officer in three years and has lost 232 officers since 2010, further gutting public safety struck me as irresponsible.
While pundits and my political opponents will continue to carp, such criticism pales before the commitment I made to every resident when I took office:
To create new jobs and improve education, to keep neighborhoods safe and keep our city moving forward.
Together, we will continue to do exactly that, one day at a time, one difficult decision at a time. I look forward to seeing you and hearing from you at our city’s upcoming public budget hearings.
• Greg Stanton was elected mayor of Phoenix in 2011.