Thursday, July 16, 2009

Budget revealed -- the challenge is before us

The challenge to move forward in faith, utilizing the resources we have wisely in time, talent, and treasure to fulfill our mission priorities over the next triennium.

The budget committee shared an opening statement to a joint session of both Houses on Wednesday at 2:30pm that summarized the focus and motivation behind the recently released budget for the Episcopal Church for 2010-2012. The total budget comes to $140M (which is down from the $163M that was originally estimated).

For me, the key paragraph that cuts to the chase was, "For each new challenge, there is a new opportunity. The economic environment and its effects on the financial resources available to the Budget for the next Triennium call the Church to take a very close look at all that we do, how and where we do it, whether or not certain activities should continue, and how programs might be done more effectively by a network of service organizations. This work was hard, and more often than not, painful."

It is painful. The Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance (PB&F) had a difficult task, and the results were not totally unexpected. Programs have had their funding reduced or cut altogether. Significant staff reductions -- some estimate around 30 -- at the national church offices corresponding with those cuts are happening. I do not think there is anyone who is not going to be affected by the fiscal reality we are going to live with for the next three years.

The Budget committee was very clear to state that while these changes will cause us to become more efficient in the ways we move forward in mission, they are NOT 'value statements' about the quality or efficacy of those programs that have been cut or reduced.

Some positive things listed in the budget were:
  • The Millenium Development Goals have been restored in the budget, with .07% allocated to address poverty
  • Seed money was allocated in support of Hispanic communities
  • $200,000 was earmarked to assist seminarians with debt relief
  • $3 million was allocated for legal fees associated with property protection for dioceses

    Some painful cuts listed included:
  • Funding for General Convention was reduced by almost $2 million
  • Womens Ministries was cut from the budget entirely
  • Lay Ministry was cut from the budget entirely
  • Anti-Racism and Racial/Gender Justice and Equailty was reduced by $800,000
  • Evangelism & Congregational Life was reduced by $5 million
  • National Church Center services/functions were reduced by $9 million

    The Diocesan 'asking' -- what dioceses are asked to give to the National Church -- is going to be reduced over a three year period. Year 1 will remain at the current 21% level. Year 2 will be lowered to 20%. Year 3 will be lowered to 19%. It is hoped that this will help the dioceses.

    The committee suggested some 'out of the box' thinking when it comes to General Convention and the various committees that meet during the period between Conventions. Travel expenses have been reduced for CCABs to cover only 2 face-to-face meetings so the use of conference calling, video conferencing over the Internet, etc. is going to be encouraged. Some other items include:

  • The 77th General Convention will be reduced from 10 days to only 8 days to help save on expenses at both the Diocesan and National level.
  • The 'Blue Book' containing resolutins, committee reports, etc. will only be made available online
  • Free Wifi will be made available during General Convention
  • A strong push for a 'paperless' Convention will be encouraged

    On Thursday, deputies will be able to request for changes to the budget. The catch is: for every dollar you request be added in one area, you will also have to identify where those dollars are coming from elsewhere in the budget. There is no extra money laying around and the budget must be balanced. So while the discussions on the floor will likely demonstrate the pain people will be feeling, I am highly doubtful that anything in the budget will be changed.

    The budget should be published on the Episcopal Church website at some point in the near future (probably after tomorrow's debate is finished and the budget is passed in both Houses).
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