March 24, 2009

Grokking the Budget: help for non-wonks

Yesterday, we posted the Coalition for Community Investment's statement on the Mayor's budget proposal for FY2010, and the reaction was tentatively positive--especially to the level of descriptive detail, which the Coalition called "a step forward in budget transparency [that] will help the DC Council and residents understand the proposed changes."

But a step forward still stops far out of reach of non-wonky laypeople who are affected by these matters but to whom the budget remains an impenetrable document and an obscure process. As Kathryn Baer describes the budget proposal document on her Poverty and Policy blog, "It’s entitled “Meeting the Challenge.” And, indeed, you’ll meet a challenge if you try to read it--unless, of course, you’re an expert in the D.C. budget and have insider information about what lies behind the figures."

Well put! Fortunately, for those of us who are really interested in the budget but can't wrap their heads around these source documents, there are options. (These options, unfortunately, are not all that easily findable online.)

First example: The Arc of DC released its annual budget guide, which you can download here as a PDF. This document -- which is also quite long, but reader friendly -- is geared primarily towards matters relating to persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. Nevertheless, it contains handy general information on the budget process and schedule, instructions on how to be involved in the hearings, and a good amount of departmental information and contextualization. It's really an impressive breakdown, especially if you're interested in the topical matter of mental health care in the District, which we've covered at length here.

For more information about The Arc of DC’s budget guide, or to request a printed copy, contact T.J. Sutcliffe, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, at 202-636-2963 or tjsutcliffe[AT]arcdc[DOT]net.

Also of interest to concerned citizens: on April 2nd, from 2-430pm at the True Reformer Building at 1200 U Street, there will be an educational budget-briefing sponsored by the Affordable Housing Alliance and the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute will be in the house, giving an overview of the entire budget, and representatives from DC's housing agencies will be on hand to discuss the budget's housing-specific aspects. If you would like to attend please RSVP to Bettina Myers.

There are probably some other useful opportunities out there for non-wonks to start wrapping their heads around this critical budget process. Care to share?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very helpful posting, Greg. Despite the motto for my blog, I was cursing the darkness instead of lighting a candle. So thanks for a more positive approach.

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute website——is a terrific online source for the District budget. Its budget toolkit for the FY 2010 budget hasn't been posted yet, but I expect it will be soon. And I'm confident it will be, as past toolkits have been, proof positive that that the budget can be presented in a way that's detailed enough for "wonks" and clear and relevant to the general public.