Saturday, May 29, 1999

Politics has big role
in city budget crisis

Bullet The issue: The City Council has found ways to balance the budget despite fears of a huge shortfall.
Bullet Our view: It's no accident that the problem was solved after Mufi Hannemann was ousted as Council chairman.

It turned out that the city government's fiscal problems weren't so bad after all. Once Mufi Hannemann was deposed as City Council chairman, the new majority and the Harris administration found ways to deal with the projected deficit, which had been described previously as enormous.

But it didn't happen until Hannemann and Jeremy Harris had engaged in a public feud that did nothing for either's image.

The Council's budget provides for no increase in bus fares and golf fees or imposition of a garbage collection fee.

But there will be an increase in property tax rates, designed to offset the drop in property values and generate the same revenue as this year. The increase could have been much bigger, because property tax revenues have been falling for several years. In addition, the vehicle registration fee may go up.

Hannemann claims he was sandbagged into proposing increases in bus fares and cuts in city executive positions to balance the budget, which enraged Harris and led to the latest upheaval on the Council. The new majority, headed by Chairman Jon Yoshimura, has found ways to balance the $1.03 billion budget -- about $27 million less than this year's budget -- without those controversial measures.

The ousted chairman says the ease with which the budget has now been balanced shows that the administration's previous budget proposals were padded -- which Yoshimura candidly admits.

The new chief of the Budget Committee, Rene Mansho, says the administration's budget was different when it was submitted in March. "Subsequent to that, I guess, revenues appeared magically."

It seem safe to conclude that politics played a major role in this tiff, with Harris rewarding the Council members who ousted Hannemann by collaborating with them to find previously unconsidered ways to come up with the necessary funding.

Mansho and Andy Mirikitani, the key Council members in the leadership reshuffle, are getting generous allocations of capital improvements for their districts, allegedly in return for their votes.

Donna Mercado Kim, now in the minority, pointed out that she and fellow minority member John Henry Felix got much less than Mansho and Mirikitani for their districts.

Call it political magic.

Milosevic indictment
could boomerang

Bullet The issue: Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has been indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
Bullet Our view: The indictment may stiffen Yugoslav resistance.

ANY incentive that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic might have had to end NATO's bombing of his country through a negotiated peace has been removed by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Netherlands.

The tribunal's indictment of Milosevic and four lieutenants for crimes against humanity in Kosovo has every legal justification, but that does not make it useful. Rather, it gives Milosevic a strong incentive to fight on. By stiffening Milosevic's resistance, the indictment may accelerate a decision by NATO to send in ground troops to achieve total victory.

There was no immediate indication that the indictment would have the desired effect on Yugoslavia. A Belgrade official mocked it as the political stunt of "a private court."

The tribunal for months has been assembling credible evidence of massacres, rapes and other atrocities witnessed by ethnic Albanians who have been forced to flee Kosovo. Their accounts led to the indictment accusing the five men of being responsible for 740,000 deportations of Kosovo Albanians and the murder of 340. These are charges of the utmost gravity.

The tribunal issued arrest warrants for the five, but its past success in bringing those indicted to justice has been minimal. Of 83 who have been indicted for war crimes in the present and former Yugoslavia, only seven have been prosecuted. Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Rathko Mladic, two of the most murderous figures indicted, remain at large.

The slim chance that Milosevic would leave his country to engage in talks such as those he attended in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995 to end the war in Bosnia has been virtually eradicated by the indictment. U.N. members are under obligation to arrest him if he sets foot in their countries.

Louise Arbour, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, said the indictments "will make a major contribution to a lasting peace, not only in Kosovo, but in the whole region in which we have jurisdiction."

It would be comforting to be able to accept that view, but under the circumstances it is highly questionable. The immediate need is to bring the war to a successful conclusion, and the indictment won't help. It may, however, force the hand of NATO leaders who have been putting off a decision on whether to send ground forces into Kosovo.

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