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Budget Times USA

By Molly Cox | Aug 21 2018

I want to talk to you about budgets. No, wait! Don’t fall asleep. This is important!

Each year, the City of San Antonio crafts their (our?) budget – arguably the most important policy document for our city—‘cause you can’t pass a policy if you can’t actually fund it—and traipses it out for several public meetings to get your feedback. Raise your hand if you’ve shown up to one of these meetings. Raise your hand if you participated in the pre-budget conversation through SA Speak Up and filled out a survey about your city service priorities. (I so hope you actually just participated in that exercise. Mostly because you sitting at your computer randomly raising your hand would be so great.)

I am not a licensed City budget ambassador (does that position exist?), but I do spend a lot of time working with departments and people within our local government, and I think it’s important for us all to know a little more about it.

The mission of the City of San Antonio is to deliver quality services and commit to achieve San Antonio’s vision of prosperity for our diverse, vibrant, and historic community. You can find that statement and their core values here. How amazing, then, that in San Antonio, Texas we already defined our vision of prosperity. No, like we actually defined it during what is arguably the most successful community engagement process in our city’s history with nearly 6,000 people outlining goals for our city’s future and defining the ways in which we would track progress.

At SA2020, we believe that everyone is capable of affecting change. And because SA2020 transparently reports on San Antonio’s progress towards our shared goals, the entire community is able to see where we are making strides and where we are falling short, ultimately always able to advocate for and lead change.

In order to affect change, though, San Antonio must take collective responsibility for advancing community results. This responsibility is embodied in the SA2020 Community Vision. It’s literally spelled out in the vision statement that you wrote under the Family Well-Being Cause Area: The entire community— individuals, businesses, local government, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations—takes responsibility for our collective well-being by providing information, access, high quality services, and a sense of meaningful stability to residents of all ages and backgrounds.

So, SA2020 works in partnership with multi-sector organizations to intentionally redesign the way our system—made up of the public, private, and social sectors—works.

With more than 150 nonprofit, foundation, public, and corporate partners, SA2020 leads a growing coalition of institutions committed to organizational change that will impact your desired community results. This doesn’t include the countless cross-sector coalitions who are working to address healthcare access, teen pregnancy, Census completion, domestic violence, college attainment, and philanthropic giving, to name a few. It’s slow moving, but it’s happening. In fact, it’s why San Antonio was named an All-America City in 2018.

At SA2020, we know that to fully shift community results, everyone—every institution, organization, governmental entity, policymaker—needs to identify and fully commit to outcomes for which they are responsible. What are you responsible for in your own work and where can you create the biggest impact? This is the work we do every single day with our Partners, helping them to define this, strengthen it, then articulate it to you.

But back to the City budget. Stay awake! Here, let’s shimmy together with a cat and Shaq.

The City of San Antonio, with the release of its 2019 budget, has shown where it will focus its resources on delivering services to achieve your vision of prosperity, and we have to pay attention. Our City agency has shown you in dollars and cents what it should be held responsible for and how they might create impact on your desired community results.

This year, dollars for street maintenance increases from $99 million in 2018 to $110 million. But to merely look at street maintenance as pot hole filling is to miss the bigger implication of safe passage to our jobs and schools. In fact, under Transportation, you said you wanted San Antonio to be served by an environmentally-friendly transportation system where everyone is able to walk, ride, drive, or wheel in a safe, convenient, and affordable manner to their desired destinations. And we know—because we transparently report it—that while we’re making some progress on complete streets, we’re not moving at the rate we need to meet our 2020 goal. Additionally, we made a commitment to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries, and yet, these are actually increasing. The City has an opportunity to make an impact on your goals here, not just in Transportation but also in Education and Economic Competitiveness. Are they fully responsible for these results? No. But they do hold a lion’s share of this work.

We said we wanted San Antonio to be renowned as the best place to raise a family. Its neighborhoods should be places where residents thrive. Additionally, your San Antonio would be known for its cohesive neighborhoods with compelling and unique personalities. Our smart growth patterns would result in a livable and vibrant community.

And yet, we know—because we transparently report on community indicators—we are not there yet.

The last SA2020 Report showed that one-third of all San Antonio households were spending more than 30% of their income on housing. We know that housing costs shouldn’t burden any family. (As a sidenote: this year, we’re committed to showing how that number breaks out by City Council District for both homeowners and renters. Our next report will be released in January 2019.)

So, when the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force released its recommendations, the crux of their work focused on three things: opportunity, systems, and sustainability. You can read their full report here or check out a shortened version here. But more specifically, it is going to take commitment to make this happen, and our City budget includes an increase to $25 million in funding that aligns with the Task Force recommendations—recommendations led by a 5-person team of volunteers and crafted by over 550 individuals. This was not a top/down approach. This was informed by your neighbors. And it shows very clearly where the City has taken responsibility for its piece to make this happen and become part of the solution. We also know that developers and our private sector pals will have to step up on this, defining their own impact on your community results.

You said you wanted San Antonio to be recognized as a leader in business with a highly qualified and educated workforce that provides economic opportunity for all of its residents. And we know that we have seen major improvements in employment. Hell, we are even one of the top cities for college-educated millennial growth. And yet, we are also the number one income segregated city in the United States with an increasing underemployment rate and little to no movement on attainment post-high school. Here’s what else we know because of the SA2020 Talent Dividend: if we were to increase college attainment by 1%, or about 14,000 degrees, we could see a $1.4 billion economic return to San Antonio MSA. (Yes, that’s billion with a “b.”) The City added $415,000 to its budget for youth re-engagement—identifying young people who have been involved in one or more of their programs. With an estimated 35,000 young people between the ages of 16-24 who are either not working or not in school, we’ve got the potential for nearly doubling our college attainment numbers, thereby doubling that economic return. That’s a pretty significant piece of a giant, complicated puzzle.

OK, look, I’ve been through the nearly 400-page budget document. You’re welcome. There are countless other parts of the budget that can be connected to your vision. As it should be. The City is charged with “deliver[ing] quality services” and is “commit[ted] to achieve San Antonio’s vision of prosperity.” Your vision of prosperity.

So…how can you create impact toward our collective Community Results? Ask more questions. Does the proposed budget make sense to the values we outlined together? How can we track their performance to know if what they have identified as their responsibility actually happens?

After all it is our job—as you clearly articulated in your vision for Civic Engagement—to be deeply engaged as elected leaders, business leaders, volunteers, and voters in the process of making government more responsive and accountable to San Antonians.

Molly Cox

Molly grew up in Corpus Christi, TX where she spent the majority of her adult life as a radio “personality.” She received her BA in theatre from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, then went on to get her master’s degree in political science from UTSA. Molly worked as the Director of UTSA’s Center for Policy Studies, where she led the Nonprofit Management and American Humanics Programs. Her focus in nonprofit capacity building grew to include her own consulting business, Nonprofit Fancy Pants. In March 2013, she joined SA2020 as the Chief of Engagement and in early 2015 became President & CEO of SA2020.

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