Budgeting as a Democratic Socialist

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A few months ago, I won a historic election to become both the first LGBTQ Latina and the first Democratic Socialist to serve on Denver City Council. One of my top priorities is co-governance with constituents to increase trust and transparency in city government.

Among my first initiatives was convening a participatory budgeting process, which encourages all members of the community to join their elected officials in reviewing and approving government budgets. I was thrilled when dozens of people from our district answered our open invitation. Together, we learned some truly troubling things about how the mayor plans to spend our money.

Mayor Michael B. Hancock’s proposed 2020 budget calls for a significant expansion in executive and administrative costs, while allocations for direct services, programs, nonprofit generating infrastructure, and other projects have decreased or remained static. That’s a big problem. I’m ideologically opposed to sinking money into bloating administration rather than direct services at any time, but to do so with a recession looming in the near future sets up our communities for failure.

When economic hardship revisits our city (and it will — it brings me no joy to report that cycles of economic crisis are a built-in feature of capitalism), thousands of homeless people and those at risk of homelessness are already poised to bear the brunt of the storm. Without adequate bolstering of community services, infrastructure and climate-critical improvements, increasing numbers of Denver’s most vulnerable residents will slide further into poverty while those currently holding steady will find themselves needing support that will be unavailable.

This budget is grossly top-heavy precisely at a time when foundational investments in our people are needed. Here are just a few examples of administrative bloat my constituents and I found together:

• A marketing and communications specialist working for the Denver Office of Economic Development makes an eye-popping $143,000 per year.

• Fifty-seven mayoral appointees make a combined $7.8 million, and an average salary of $139,000 each. Of those, 20 alone are in the mayor’s office, pulling their salaries from other department budgets without a clear liaison function.

• The City of Denver now spends more than $1 billion on employee salaries, up from $600 million just eight years ago. That’s largely thanks to a 48% increase in highly paid general administration employees, which includes the offices of the mayor and city attorney.

Using input from our constituents, my office has prepared what I’m sure will be the first of many community budget proposals. We’re calling for cutting administrative bloat to fund more direct investment in services for our most vulnerable — more social workers, more housing and rent support, and more employment programs for our friends and neighbors experiencing homelessness. Go to https://bit.ly/31Kbsnm to see our proposal.

Working directly with my constituents on something as foundational and complex as the city budget has been a highlight of my first months in office. I can’t wait to find out what else we can accomplish together in the coming years.

Councilmember Candi CdeBaca represents District 9 on Denver City Council. The district covers north central Denver, including City Park, the Central Business District, Five Points and more. She can be reached at candi.cdebaca@denvergov.org.

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