EXCLUSIVE! PLANET EXPOSES FY15 BUDGET … COUNCIL WADES THROUGH ‘SWAMP BIANCHI,’ BUT ‘THE EMPTY SUIT’S’ BUDGET STILL DEFIES SENSE, LOGIC, or ‘RESPONSIBILITY’
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, JUNE 9, 2014) — On Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon, our Right Honorable Good Friends on the Pittsfield City Council put on their muck boots and waded through Swamp Bianchi, otherwise known as the FY15 budget. Forget about “The Rest of the River.” Who’s going to clean up with fiscal pollution left in the water by the increasingly overmatched and underemployed mayor?
Perhaps the council should just truck in five feet of clean sand and bury the foul document.
The council asked some questions, got the usual B.S. from city department heads, and departed with thoughts of trying to salvage the weekend — whether it included booze, broads, bingo, bennies, or boomerangs.
An Oddity or an Idiocy?
This council did not give one ounce of evidence for confidence in their ability to deal maturely and professionally with The Empty Suit‘s plague-filled FY’15 budget. This was a special meeting of the council, a so-called Meeting of the Whole. The law stipulates that such meetings are for informational purposes only. Nonetheless, in what appears to be violations of law, the council took votes in defiance of protocol and procedure. This continues a pattern of activity since this council began work in January that it doesn’t know its own rules. Of course, the onus for this falls to council president Melissa Mazzeo, but each councilor must share in the burden.
——- 000 ——-
Here’s a fair question based on the budget proceedings to date: Is the fix in, once again? Consider:
You have the school committee in advance rolling over and playing dead, including Josh Cutler — a politician so obviously on the make that he doesn’t dare upset the adults at this point in his nascent career. Young Josh tells all of us the budget is “responsible.” Ouch. Its kind of embarrassing. Josh has many lessons to learn. THE PLANET reminds our Right Honorable Good Young Friend that “responsible” can either mean “sensible, mature, or reliable, or it can mean “guilty, blameworthy, culpable, to blame.” He has obviously confused the two.
——- 000 ——-
The Empty Suit’s spending plan defies all common sense, logic, and — yes, Josh — “responsibility.” THE PLANET has spent a good amount of time going through the figures with the help of a couple “numbers guys,” including an economist of the highest academic and professional repute and pedigree.
Where does THE PLANET even begin with this mess?
Let’s present what we’ve learned in as easy and as digestible a format as we can.
——- 000 ——-
When a Hike is a ‘Cut’ — When the mayor presented the first iteration of this phony budget, it came at $150+ million. That included Jake “JIV” Mccandless‘ push for multimillions more money for the already overfunded school department, which last year lost almost 500 students through school choice. THE PLANET aggressively covered JIV’s money grab, and lo and behold, JIV settled for a measly $1 million increase plus the $1.5 million in pay raises for PSD staff. Naturally, both TES and JIV, labeled this $2.5 million increase (as opposed to the nearly $5 million originally sought) as a “cut.”
Conflict of Interest? What Conflict of Interest? — The next time TES (that’s Bianchi, remember) sniffed the used toilet paper upon which he printed his budget figures, this time into the loving arms of the Pittsfield School Committee, the figure came in at $148.14 million. The PSC lap-dogged its approval, 7-0. One of the votes, of course, belonged to Bianchi. Don’t you see a bit of a conflict of interest there? The executive who proposes the budget gets an equal vote on approving the budget.
High Noon — On Friday at noon (June 5) with little more than perfunctory notice, the man who masquerades as “mayor” (who actually does his real work for Global Montello) presented his spending plan to the council. Don’t you just love both the sudden-ness of the event and the ridiculous of the hour. This helped assure that councilors would not have adequate time to prepare and that they who have day jobs would find it inconvenient in the extreme. Then the magic happened again. The imposter’s budget figure went “down” again, inexplicably, to $141+ million. On the surface, it looked like the mayor took $7 million out of the budget. If appearances were reality, Bianchi would look like Fiorello LaGuardia. They’re not, though, and he doesn’t. This is a fake number, worthy of a checkered fraud in a houndstooth frock.
What’s $23 Million Among Friends? — In the phony $141 million plan, the debt summary is incomplete. The budget doesn’t list, for example, the money still owed on the bonds the last time they borrowed to fix up school buildings. Taxpayers, for instance, still have to pay principal and interest on $23 million dollars. This doesn’t count any other debt service, and there’s plenty, for which taxpayers are on the hook.
Now it starts to get wacky beyond belief and perhaps legality.
Phantom ‘Revenue’ — According to THE PLANET’s analysis, it appears that the mayor claimed as revenue from the state money that the city will never receive. That is essentially how he has faked the “cut” when there’s no cut at all. If we understand this confusing budget, this is either a sign of gross incompetence on the part of the mayor and his two finance directors, Sue “The Empty High Heels” Carmel (TEHH) (city) and Kristen “Tex” Behnke (schools) or an indication of fraud. If there’s a third possibility, we can’t find it.
Up is Down — The financial geniuses behind this budget also appear to be counting state “assessments and overlays” as “revenue.” In other words, it looks as if the FY15 budget counts more than $6.5 million in state charges as income, as taken from the mayor’s own data. This sounds unbelievable, and THE PLANET had a hard time accepting it as well, but a careful run through the numbers convinces us that’s what this plan is doing.
Anywhere Else, and You End Up in Prison — The budget also appears to claim as expenses (outgoing funds) money the city will not have to spend. Try this type of move with the IRS, folks, and soon you will find yourself on a sunflower farm in Kansas. That’s the home of Leavenworth Prison.
The FY15 spending plan also takes the state’s gross figure of aid to Pittsfield (from the “cherry sheets) without taking into account the offsetting charges in the form of assessments. Cherry sheet figure minus state assessments produces “net aid,” which is the true amount the city is expected to receive from Boston. However, it doesn’t look like TES, TEHH, or Tex subtracted the money owed. Instead, they went with the gross figure. This slick maneuver puts a phantom $5 million into the city accounts that taxpayers will never see.
”Free’ Cash Isn’t Free — The idiotic Bianchi-Carmel-Behnke fiscal plan counts free cash as revenue, in other words, as money coming in! How utterly ridiculous. Free cash is the amount of money the city already has absconded from taxpayers. It’s the amount left over after the city paid all the bills. Instead of returning it to its rightful owners, the taxpayers, the city pockets this into a slush fund called free cash. That’s done in every municipal budget. What’s never been done, to THE PLANET’s knowledge, is to take that money already in-hand and call it anticipated revenue (income). It can’t come in. It’s already here.
Up, Up, and Away — The bottom line is that altough it may look like the figure has dropped from $150+ million to $148+ million to $141+ million, it hasn’t. Even at that, it would still be millions more than the FY14 budget. They mayor hasn’t cut a thing. He’s padded everything, and he’s trying to use razzle-dazzle of questionable legality to hide this fact. Ladies and gentlemen as well as business owners who don’t have political pull and haven’t been given non-profit status: Your tax bills are going to go up, not down. What’s the actual number of the budget? The best analysis of Bianchi’s clown-rodeo budget puts it at about $150 million.
——- 000 ——-
If the Pittsfield city council doesn’t do what North Adams did and cut some fat, THE PLANET will be issuing marching orders for payback. North Adams cut 19 positions, including 10 teachers? What will Pittsfield cut, except more from the taxpayers’ dwindling reserve of marked and discretionary income?
We know of some councilors who are ripped at this budget, and we’re not talking about The Unholy Trio, who of late seem to have been cowed into submission under the unrelenting whip hand of the council’s Madame President. No. The councilors to which we refer are from among the dreaded “others.” They hate what’s going on in this plan, one of them even wondering out loud to us if there are laws bring broken in the set of documents. Now whether or not they translate their discontent into action, that is another story.
Here’s are the grades thus far on this budget:
Bianchi — F
School Committee — F
Council — Incomplete.
We entertain no hopes but the hopeless kind, but, hey, at least it’s something.
“Choo choo to Broadway foo Cincinnati. Don’t get icky with the one two three. Life is just so fine on the solid side of the line, rip.” — Opening to “Hold Tight,” The Andrew Sisters, (1942).
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.