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Capital Punishment

Yesterday Mayor Byron Brown vetoed a number of additions the Common Council made to his proposed 2009 capital budget for the city.

The most important change the Council made was to split $5,638,354 allotted for infrastructure replacement and repair—roadwork, sidewalks, streetlamps, etc.—among the nine councilmanic districts. In his budget he mayor did not specify where that money would be spent, because he wants flexibility and control: flexibility to undertake projects he and his staff think important, and control over which districts receive improvements. 2009 is, after all, an election year for the mayor.

The Council also dropped $535,000 for an assessment of the condition of city-owned buildings and took $321,680 out of $463,667 the mayor had allotted for improvements to City Hall and moved it to a new budget item, a reworking of the intersection of North and Linwood. The Council also deleted a $365,000 appropriation for a new police and fire radio system. The Council—or, rather, the majority coalition of five councilmembers—said that item could be paid for out of a different pot of state money. The mayor, in his veto statement, disputed that claim.

The Council took the money from those deleted items and dropped it into the infrastructure improvement kitty.

The mayor can’t veto deletions from the capital budget, only additions. And the Council’s changes don’t really constitute additions; the amount of the capital budget remains the same. Instead, they moved money around and decentralized control of its expenditure, largely because they feared that districts represented by dissenters might not receive their fair share if the mayor controlled the purse strings.

But dividing the infrastructure improvement funds among the councilmanic districts required new budget lines—in other words, additions—and the mayor vetoed five of those lines: infrastructure money for the Delaware, Fillmore, Lovejoy, Niagara, and South districts. Those are, not coincidentally, the districts represented by the majority coalition of councilmembers, who are less inclined to vote with the mayor on controversial issues than the other four, whose appropriations were not vetoed.

The majority coalition will hold a press conference to respond to the mayor’s vetoes tomorrow afternoon in City Hall. They won’t likely find a sixth vote to overturn the vetoes, so they’ll have to take up the issue again when the administration seeks Council approval to sell bonds.

More on this tomorrow.