The big news locally today is the mayor’s speech at the Taxpayer’s Association. Titled: “Overcoming Financial Challenges” the speech has had the mayor’s team excited for a week. We haven’t seen him hype a non-State of the City speech like this before. It piqued our interest.

And while it starts with some reassuring reminders about his management skills, he obviously had another purpose: To scare us. There are big financial troubles ahead and he’s going to try to whip up worry about them because dealing with them might be tough.

So while scanning a written copy of the speech, I skipped through all the mayor’s self-congratulations until I could find what we’re supposed to brace for. And here it is:

As the economy slumps, City revenues are also slipping. Tourism revenues are down, and so are property and sales taxes. Based upon new information, we now project a $43 million deficit for the current fiscal year — and we must act soon to keep it from growing.

In this era of $700 billion bailouts, $43 million may not seem like a lot. But, believe me, for a city that is already on a tight budget, it’s huge. Unlike the kingpins on Wall Street, no one is going to rescue us. We have to rescue ourselves.

These are uncharted waters, and I don’t pretend to know where the economy is heading. But I can say this — we almost certainly will need to curtail programs and close facilities that enjoy broad public support.

And we cannot — and will not — resort to the budget shell games used by previous administrations to cover up problems and put off the day of reckoning. Nor will we succumb to the doubts and fears you’ll hear from those whose expertise is in expanding government, not shrinking it.

These uncharted waters were not unimaginable. We said for years that the city’s fiscal problems were being masked by a booming housing market and economy. The local economy’s consistent growth over the past four years minimized the burdens of the pension system, spending increases and the structural imbalance of the city’s budget.

I can’t remember how many times I’ve said here and on the radio and everywhere I could that it was important to note that the city’s well-documented financial problems were occurring during good times. What happens if we have a recession or worse?

We’re about to find out.

SCOTT LEWIS

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