Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer discussed the upcoming city budget, Occupy Louisville demonstrators and the controversy over accepting contributions to pay off his campaign debt during a WFPL News special on Wednesday.
Last year, the administration cobbled together savings from a number of one-time stopgaps to close a $22.5 million shortfall in drafting Fischer’s first budget. Early revenue projections show that budget proposal is $6 million short despite higher receipts in the first three months of the fiscal year.
Financial forecasts predict a deficit up to $30 million for the 2012-2013 fiscal year and city officials are looking at every option to close that gap.
Fischer reiterated a warning to external agencies to find alternative funding sources, adding the city will award funding to groups who have shown they can spend taxpayer dollars wisely.
“I don’t think things are going to be better and it looks like they’re not going to be better. So those external agencies that receive funds from the city, if they receive them, will be those that come up with creative ways to stretch their dollars further than what others have in the past,” he says. “So that’s what I mean by coming up with a plan B. Don’t come in a just say, here’s what we’ve been doing the last five years and we’ve got to keep that going.”
The majority of the city budget is spent on public safety and personnel costs such as pensions, health care and employee overtime. When asked if an audit of those agencies would be called, the mayor indicated he was open to the idea and added he plans to ask Metro Council members to voluntarily relinquish some of their discretionary spending to help fill any budget shortfall.
Fischer also responded to criticism the city has received regarding the relationship between Occupy Louisville protestors and Metro Government over the past couple weeks.
City officials won’t commit to pursue any specific actions against demonstrators, who are currently using Founder’s Square to stage their protest. The group has spent the night at the 5th and Muhammad Ali Boulevard space since last November under a city permit.
The city has agreed to reissue a permit but will not include overnight camping. However, it’s unclear how Metro Government can regulate the property.
A 2009 Attorney General opinion requested by city officials says Founder’s Square is not a public park and its unclear how Louisville Metro came to acquire the property.
Fischer told WFPL that the area is an undefined city space, but said its managed by Public Works. Several questions should be cleared up when Occupy Louisville representatives are heard before a circuit court judge on Friday, he said.
“The bottom is, look, the permit is expired. We gave them an exception. We’re going to get this figured out in the courts. Once the courts decide what to do, we’ll enforce it,” he says.
This could change how Metro Government is allowed to regulate the property and it may stall any actions the city plans on taking against protesters. City officials have not offered any concrete response to the demonstrator’s expired permit and it’s unclear how the city could legally regulate the undefined area.
The County Attorney’s office has declined comment on the case citing attorney/client privileges, but officials for the office said they city may have to recalculate their response.
Demonstrators said if the tents are removed, it will be against their will.
Fischer also discussed a growing perception problem with reports that he is still raising campaign cash while in office. The donations are paying off Fischer’s nearly $250,000 personal loans and include $1,500 in contributions from a lobbyist who represents Insight Communications, a cable company that is currently in tough negotiations with Metro Government over a franchise agreement.
However, the mayor told WFPL the matter has been transparent and legal, adding he will continue to raise the funds despite growing criticism and his personal wealth.
Fischer says people shouldn’t have to pay to run for office and the donations haven’t influenced his decision-making.
“Obviously I’ve decided that’s fine. It’s certainly permissible. If there are any conflicts of interest there we won’t accept the money associated with those funds…this is something that’s funny about running for office, everybody wants to tell you how to spend your money. I appreciate your advice there, but the campaign account is open and will continue to be open for awhile,” he says.
A Metro Council candidate has filed a complaint against Fischer with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance over the donations. The state agency has given the mayor and the chair of his inauguration committee two weeks to respond to the complaint.
For the full interview, click below
Devin Katayama contributed to this story