EXPLAINER: Mayor Mike Rama announced a P100 billion general appropriation for 2024, most of it for ‘climate change.’ City residents still have to know whether the P50 billion outlay for 2023 has worked and how a twice-larger budget for next year will.

And to cram of nine years of mayor’s work on projects into three years: what’s that about? A reason for Rama to quit in 2025 or to seek two more terms.
EXPLAINER: Mayor Mike Rama announced a P100 billion general appropriation for 2024, most of it for ‘climate change.’ City residents still have to know whether the P50 billion outlay for 2023 has worked and how a twice-larger budget for next year will.
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INCLUDED in the agenda of the Cebu City Council’s regular session Wednesday, October 25, 2023, is a letter of Mayor Michael L. Rama with his proposed annual general appropriation for 2024 in the amount of P100 billion, most of which, P77.066 billion, will be capital outlay, purportedly for climate change.

Once again, the Sanggunian is entrusted to review a spending plan for next year -- with virtually no information yet on whether the current budget is working and the budget for 2024, 100 percent bigger than this year’s, will work.

[1] ‘SHOCK AND AWE.’ The major attention-getter and throat-grabber in the 2024 budget is the huge amount of the appropriation.

“Oh my God,” or some native expression of being totally blown away, like “Por Dios, por San Miguel,” greeted the announcement a few days ago, Wednesday, October 18, in an interview by dyHP radio with the mayor and his budget officer Atty. Jerone Castillo.

It was another “shock and awe” move since Mayor Rama unveiled on October 19, 2022, his P50 billion budget for 2023. It stunned many people then because it was five times the P9 billion budget for 2022, and far outside the historical range of P8 billion and P11 billion.

That “shock and awe” term -- used by U.S. strategists Harlan Ullman and James Wade in a 1996 Pentagon briefing document and popularized in the war on Iraq in 2003 -- could apply figuratively to the two budget leaps one year after another.

[2] CAN IT BE DONE? Or the matter of “doability” -- within the period for which the huge sum is allotted or the term of Rama’s current term (2022-2025) -- contributes to the sense of incredulity among some Cebuanos.

Veteran watchers of local government performance doubt if that huge sum of P50 billion could be collected and all the projects for which the money is allotted could be started, let alone completed, by the end during Rama’s term in 2025.

Taxes for the 2023 budget aren’t all in yet, but it’s doubtful if the total will reach the P50 billion goal. A SunStar story of October 18 reported that only P7 billion of the current budget had been collected.

As to execution of the projects under the 2023 budget, the public may wonder about the status of the top item in the list, which would eat up P25 billion: 200 medium-rise buildings for socialized housing. Barely two months are left before the end of fiscal year 2023 and how many buildings are not yet standing?

[3] HOW THE P100B WILL BE RAISED. In the local expenditure program for 2004 that the mayor submitted to the City Council, 78 percent of the P100 billion will come from the city’s tax collection; 3 percent from the national tax allotment; 12 percent from the non-tax revenue; and 7 percent from the profit of joint ventures.

The City Council just amended the tax ordinances, including the Revenue Code and the Market Code, expanding tax rates and coverage. The mayor said they’ll also enhance tax mapping and inspection and intensify tax collection. Last Friday, October 13, acting City Assessor Maria Teresa Ceballos-Rosell presented at a public hearing examples of assessments on various real properties in the city, showing a jump of taxes by from 500 percent to over 1,000 percent. Still not determined is how many landowners cannot afford to pay the new rates, when the taxes become “un-affordable and confiscatory.”

In sum, the City Government will appropriate P100 billion and sweat it out to collect the P100 billion they’ll spend. That’s the plan. As to how it will turn out, the councilors may get some idea from the city treasurer who might tell the Sanggunian whether they can raise the money as fast as the executive department can spend. For the 2023 spending, the City Council had attached a condition and limit to the spending: only 75 percent of the already-collected taxes. Would they adopt a similar safeguard in the 2024 outlay?

[4] SPENDING ON ‘CLIMATE CHANGE’ PROBLEMS. In his October 16 letter to the City Council, Mayor Rama gave details of the bare-boned proposal he had earlier announced on DYHP.

The top purpose is "Gubat sa Baha" whose task force under that name has been implemented the three-meter easement. Those living near rivers, creeks and other waterways will be relocated to the planned medium-rise buildings. But not for that purpose alone, Mayor Rama told the City Council.

Money will be spent also for “the bigger problem,” namely climate change, which, he said, has spawned other problems such as scarcity of water and lack of food.

And here’s more: landslides. To prevent landslides, he created, he said, Task Force Likay sa Landslides. And these task forces apparently need money do their job. Task Force Likay sa Landslides “monitors land movement, mining activities, road access, and food insecurity.”

They are global challenges, the mayor said, citing his being a member of the United Nations on Climate Change and a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol. The problems, Rama said, “herculean solution” and “multitude of resources.” Atty. Castillo did his bit for the cause of climate change, saying it gets a large chunk of the P100 billion “kay ang uwan karon dagko kaayo’g lusok unya dugay pa jud mahuman.”

The money, the mayor told the City Council, will also be spent to build a water retention system, improve or re-introduce a better drainage system, upgrade the two task forces, hold food security summits, promote local products, construct farm-to-market roads, and even a universal health-care-program.

[5] TO DELIVER IN THREE YEARS. From Mayor Rama’s stock of favorite catchphrases, he asked the councilors, “If not now, when? If not us, who?” The councilors, in turn, may ask the time frame of his “goal.”

The mayor said that while “several milestones of development” were reached in the first 100 days of his fresh term as mayor (he had served his own two full terms and parts of the late mayor Edgardo Labella’s term), he’d “deliver in three years what would normally take nine years.” He admitted there’s “still so much to do” (“many problems to be addressed”). Which could stretch further some people’s credulity. But then, by 2025 he’d have two more terms to run for, with no ban yet on term limit. The projects’ full completion could revert to the original normal of nine years.

[6] TIME TO STUDY, THINK OVER. The City Council has until the yearend to “peruse” the budget (about 120 pages) and hold a series of public hearings after study by the proper committees.

Tuesday, October 24, I asked Councilor Noel Gonzales Wenceslao, chairman of the committee on budget and finance, if the 2023 P50 billion budget is working and the 2024 P100 billion budget would work. He said the treasurer can tell whether the tax collection goal can be reached, and his committee will review the proposal.

[7] EXPECTED OUTCOME. What people saw last year, when the Sanggunian reviewed and approved the P50 billion budget, is most likely to happen again, this time a P100 billion bundle.

To be sure, the public will see the City Council go through all the stages of review and approval. It may pass the full amount or maybe make some token slashes. What most people won’t know, or be sure about, is whether the much-touted big budget and big spending are even close to reality or some kind of make-believe.


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