Wednesday, May 23, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio


The blame game

ULTIMATELY, Carty Finkbeiner is responsible for what happens during his watch as mayor. As the sign on President Harry Truman's desk famously stated, the buck stops at the top. And that's the way it should be. But both wisdom and basic fairness suggest that while the mayor bears responsibility for Toledo's current fiscal crisis, he did not cause it.

Mayor baiting is a national sport, and in the pantheon of American mayors, few present such an easy target as the current three-term tenant of the 22nd floor at One Government Center. The litany of Mayor Finkbeiner's missteps, verbal gaffes, temper tantrums, and plain old wrong-headedness is enough to fill a book - in fact, it did fill a book - but to make Carty the root of all evil is little more than scapegoating and serves no useful purpose.

Toledo's budget deficit is a case in point.

The mayor's detractors, which includes the growing list of mayoral candidates, groups such as Take Back Toledo, several members of City Council, and any number of political gadflies, take great pleasure in blaming Mr. Finkbeiner for the $27.7 million hole that appeared in the city budget since it was unveiled in November.

But as Blade staff writer Ignazio Messina pointed out in a Sunday story, the cause was falling income tax revenue, not flowers, the Marina District, or an unfriendly attitude toward business.

The mayor's original budget proposal depended on the city's 2.25 percent income tax to put nearly $170 million into Toledo's coffers. Now, based on a report by University of Toledo professors David Black and Oleg Smirnov, that estimate has had to be adjusted down - way down - to $145 million.

One could argue that city officials ought to have been more conservative in their original revenue estimate, but the true scope of the nation's economic crisis was only just becoming evident last fall when the projection was put together, and few imagined that the local unemployment rate would hit 14 percent in January.

And if they had imagined such a bleak future, that knowledge likely would not have made the $40 million in cuts already made easier to bear. Even now, with the deficit in full view, City Council has balked, approving less than $7 million in savings, and city unions are digging in their heels over salary and benefit cuts.

Less revenue, not runaway spending, is at the heart of Toledo's budget deficit. Responsibility for closing that gap is Mayor Finkbeiner's, and he will be judged on how well he does the job.

But responsibility and blame are not the same.

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