Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Denver's City Council has $30 million extra to spend: Do the math with Backseat Budgeter

The Backseat Budgeter, our Best of Denver 2011 winner for Best Way to Understand the Budget, is back -- and just in time. Mayor Michael Hancock's push for the passage of 2A last month -- a deBrucing that allows the city to retain extra money collected -- resulted in an additional $44 million for Denver's 2013 budget. And last night, Denver City Council members began handing out $30 million of that.

The Backseat Budgeter is an interactive budget simulation tool that enables you to look at a public budget and make decisions about how and where public dollars should be spent. The original incarnation focused on the state budget. There's still a program for that, but the Backseat Budgeter has now added a Denver-specific format that lets you prioritize spending in various city agencies, and see how those changes affect the overall budget. You can plug in the $44 million that last month's deBrucing vote put back in the city coffers -- and then determine how to spend the $30 million of that which Denver is allowed to spend.

Last night, Denver City Council gave initial approval to amending the 2013 budget they already passed, prioritizing how to spend the additional funds. Among the measures council approved? Eliminating five furlough days for city employees; authorizing new police and fire recruitment classes, which will increase police strength to 1,425 from the current 1,385; replacing the aging police fleet; giving Denver Public Schools students free access to rec centers; adding child care services and after-school programs; and restoring library hours -- with all branches back to 48 hours a week.

Go to Backseat Budgeter to plug in these projects and see how they'll affect Denver. And while you're there, you can also check out your own personal budget.

It's all a public service from Engaged Public, which created the Backseat Budgeter: Here's the non-commercial message:

Backseat Budgeter® is a simulation tool that enables you to experience for yourself what it is like to manage a public budget. Elected officials ultimately are in charge, but with Backseat Budgeter you can see the effects of your decisions, gain a better understanding of the challenges officials face, and appreciate the complexities of the public budgeting process.

Furthermore, the choices you make about the budget will be shared with public officials. You can let them know if you think they should step on the gas, put the brakes on spending or change direction altogether.

Backseat Budgeter is a public service tool created by Engaged Public to help citizens understand the tradeoffs associated with spending our public dollars. It is offered as a community service by Engaged Public at cost to any public entity wishing to educate and engage its constituents.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Michael Hancock takes cabinet to community for a preview of tonight's de-Brucing briefing."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun