Think it’s hard putting together your personal budget? Try doing it for the largest city in the Bay Area.

San Jose has put together a new website where residents can try to balance the city’s budget for the upcoming year using a program called Balancing Act.

On the website, residents can see the city’s revenue streams (such as property and sales taxes) alongside what the city spends on things like public safety, parks and housing. They then have to try to decide what spending they would eliminate to balance the budget.

Residents using the Balancing Act website must decide what spending to cut in order to balance the budget.
Residents using the Balancing Act website must decide what spending to cut in order to balance the budget. (Balancing Act)

Mayor Sam Liccardo said one of the issues the city faces when it comes to balancing the budget is that more residents live in the city than work there, reducing the taxes the city can bring in.

“We’re challenged here in San Jose because as a city with the worst jobs-to-housing balance of any major city in the country, we know we need more jobs in order to provide services,” Liccardo said at a community event on Saturday. “On the other hand, there a lot of folks who are pretty fed up with growth, and we understand why they are.”

Liccardo will lay out his priorities for the city’s 2018-19 city budget in mid-March, but before then he’s using this website to see where residents would like the city to focus its spending. Around 40 San Jose residents listened to Liccardo as he walked them through last year’s budget, explained the breakdown of city funds, and discussed some of the budget constraints at the Mayfair Community Center over the weekend.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo directs residents to a new website where they can tell the city how they would build a city budget.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo directs residents to a new website where they can tell the city how they would build a city budget. (Alyssa Jeong Perry/KQED)

After his presentation, residents were on their own to craft their San Jose budget.

“I’m concerned about police funding. I know San Jose has had trouble with the police funding,” said South San Jose’s Kevin Kelleher. So he chose to give more money to police by cutting money for transportation, but he still ended up with a deficit of $3 million.

Liccardo says allowing residents to try to balance the budget themselves helps them understand the intricacies of running a city with restricted funding.

“We’re required to make trade-offs, as we do in life in our own personal budgets,” he said. “It’s important for us to really get a clear picture of priorities within that constrained budget rather than a wish list.”

When they’re done crafting their own San Jose budget online, residents can submit their proposals, giving Liccardo and his staff a picture of what the public would like to see done with city funds.

“It’s helpful to enable us to understand whether what we think the community wants is really what the community wants,” Liccardo said.

San Jose Lets Residents Try Their Hand at Balancing the City Budget 12 February,2018Alyssa Jeong Perry

  • Sherry

    This is really a great idea. Other cities should adopt involving their citizens in a “game” like this.

    • Dave

      Very educational. I balanace the budget in less than 10 minutes. We have quite the spending problem for luxuries.

  • TheBlackxRanger

    cut the most expensive program and you fixed the issue. wait a year and see how things go

  • Brianna Aubin

    If you really wanted to make this a serious thing, you should have provided

    1) Better descriptions of the subprograms; none of them had serious descriptions, and I couldn’t even tell what a few of them were.
    2) The ability to cut by numbered amounts, not just “a little” or “a lot”.
    3) The ability to eliminate any of the subprograms, not just those ones that *you* felt could be eliminated. If it’s about voter’s choice, make it about voter’s choice, not your choice.

Author

Alyssa Jeong Perry

Alyssa Jeong Perry is a on-call reporter at KQED. She’s had stories air on NPR and WBUR’s Here & Now, PRI’s The World and WNYC’s The Takeaway.  And her written stories have been published in The Guardian and The Nation.  For her reporting on immigration, Alyssa was honored as a 2015 Ford Foundation fellow through International Center for Journalists and a 2016 Mark Felt fellow with the UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program.   She’s also interned at Oregon Public Broadcasting and has her masters in journalism from the UC Berkeley. Before diving deep into journalism, she lived in Korea for almost four years and traveled extensively through Central America and Asia.

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