The Spokane City Council has overridden yet another mayoral veto Monday, this time for a cautious budgeting ordinance championed by one of Mayor Nadine Woodward’s few allies on the council.
On Thursday, Woodward issued a blanket veto of a budgeting ordinance first proposed by Councilman Michael Cathcart. The ordinance contained numerous provisions meant to provide council members, who control the city’s purse, with regular updates on city finances and unexpected changes.
The mayor wrote that while she supports “much of this ordinance, the added communication, and hopefully smoother process that will result,” she wanted two key changes.
First, she requested the City Council provide city staff more time to generate an updated five-year budget forecast. The ordinance passed April 10 required city staff to provide this report every May; Woodward requested this deadline be delayed until June.
The annual deadline for the city’s accounting department to get year-end budgeting numbers would be April 30, Woodward wrote, which means staff would only have two weeks to prepare the report before the Finance and Administration Committee meeting each May.
“With the current timeline requested by Council, necessary and important work in the Finance Department will have to be put on hold to comply with this measure,” Woodward wrote.
Woodward also requested a provision be removed entirely that required city staff, by May of each year, to provide recommendations for adjustments to the current year’s budget to “rectify … inaccuracies.”
In a Monday interview, Cathcart said he believed Woodward’s veto was a mistake, though he quipped he was “kind of honored.”
“In 20 years, how many council members have had something vetoed?” he said. “To be a part of that very small group is a little bit of an honor.”
Cathcart said he worked closely with the mayor’s office, making compromises that “weakened this ordinance a considerable amount” over the administration’s concerns.
He argued that receiving a year-end report by May is vital in order to complete a supplemental budget – another component of Cathcart’s push for more fiscal responsibility – before July. If city staff would be strained by that quick turnaround, Cathcart said he would be committed to hiring another staff member.
“If we do this right, we get her the right staff support, then I believe there’s no reason that they can’t provide this by the date,” he said. “Maybe they’re just not thinking about how we could help them to achieve that.”
He also disagreed with Woodward’s assertion that the council could expect proactive collaboration with the administration if there are budget concerns coming down the pike.
“It hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “We have had lots of issues, and it hasn’t happened that they have proactively talked to the leadership.”
It’s vital for the City Council to hear about budget concerns and receive recommendations directly from city staff, Cathcart argued, because council members aren’t in the weeds on departmental spending.
“It makes a lot more sense to have the administration lay out a series of options that we can choose from or tweak in order to fix our budget issues, because they’re in the weeds and they know that information,” he said.