The 90-10 Principle

I have a friend in Bangladesh who occasionally sends me e-mail messages that he finds inspirational, funny, or interesting. My general reaction to these is about the same as my response to my very conservative aunt in Ohio who routinely forwards an eclectic collection of right-wing diatribes (the President wasn’t really born in the U.S.), Christian epigrams, and somehow discordant risqué jokes. Nonetheless, I almost always read my South Asian friend’s messages; and this week I was rewarded with one I felt obligated to share.

If I’ve done my work correctly, the following link should allow readers to see a brief slide show:

Launch Slideshow

I think most of us like those things that confirm our own biases; so perhaps that’s why I found my friend’s message so valuable. I won’t attempt to embellish or explain the show because I think it speaks for itself.

We are in the process of completing the proposed budget that will be submitted to the Budget Committee in May. The proposed budget would allow us to retain all employees for the coming year, if our revenue projections are accurate and if the budget is adopted by the Committee and City Council as proposed. My view of this budget is that it is the minimally responsible fiscal plan for the City for the coming year. I believe current economic conditions dictate that the Council begin a process as soon as possible to identify what services the City can afford to deliver in the years ahead. We will not be able to maintain existing services at current levels, in my opinion, beyond the coming fiscal year (2009-10).

City budgets are extremely complex documents, both because of the amount of information they contain and the many stories they cannot convey. Our current budget is 425 pages, and I am assuming that next year’s will be of comparable length. Despite the numbers, words, graphs, and pictures, it is impossible to capture the history and reasoning behind every line item in the budget. What would seem to be an obvious waste to one person scanning the budget, might be a critical expense to someone who knows more or sees the world differently. The complexity and many interests represented in a budget document make it very difficult to change suddenly or radically.

I believe the proposed budget provides a good starting point and sufficient time for the Council to conduct a thorough review of city services. The process really begins with the City’s Strategic Plan, and the Council is committed to revisiting and revising the Plan in the months ahead.

The 90-10 Principle reminds us that we cannot control 10 percent of what happens to us in life, but we do control the other 90 percent. Our proposed budget is part of what we do control in an economy that seems to be beyond understanding.