It's May, which is Budget Halloween around City Hall. The idea is to scare the bejesus out of everybody about just how dire the upcoming budget is going to be. I did it for eight years in a row and I wasn't being insincere. Because every year when we start to look at the budget projections early on, it's prudent to be conservative. In other words, go low on revenues and high on expenditures. Things always look the bleakest in the spring.
This year there's perhaps more reason to be pessimistic. The cuts in state aid programs are likely to be much more significant than usual.
But it would be a mistake to hit the brakes on capital projects for two reasons: now's the time to invest and things are getting better. We will be able to pay the borrowing back, but if we miss opportunities they'll just cost more later.
Now's the time to invest because interest rates are low, people need the jobs and construction bids have tended to be very good (though this last point moves with energy prices). The biggest part of the capital budget is streets, where over the last five years we've replaced miles of substandard pavement. Notice that potholes were not such a problem this spring?
Other projects are just exciting, like the Central Library, Central Park and the Public Market. These are things we need to do to put some sizzle in the city. We need to embrace projects like these (and the smoking ban, B-Cycle, domestic partner benefits) that mark Madison as a cutting-edge progressive city. In an environment where we're competing for highly skilled, highly mobile workers, we need to stay ahead of the curve.
The second reason to keep up capital investments is that the economy is recovering and revenues are headed up. More on that Friday.