The Jeffersonian: Politicks, Sports, and Culture

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Workforce Development

ProjectQuest is looking to shed the restrictions that City Council placed on it and other agencies last year that limited the amount of money it received from the city to a percentage of its overall budget:

Supporters of Project Quest, a job-training program long dependent on city funding, are pushing for $3 million in San Antonio's 2006 budget — twice as much as it received this year.

Communities Organized for Public Service and Metro Alliance also want the City Council to drop a rule requiring Project Quest to raise at least half its operating revenue from other sources.

"We're looking to end that match," said Mike Phillips of Metro Alliance. "It's too important a program to be subject to these kinds of restrictions."

Last year, the council adopted a funding formula for human-development service providers, including Project Quest, aimed at shrinking their reliance on city money.

In fiscal year 2005, which started Oct. 1, the agencies could get no more than 65 percent of their funding from the city. Next year, the guideline drops to 50 percent.

Councilman Richard Perez would oppose dropping the formula for Project Quest.

"The city of San Antonio is here to help folks, but we're not here to provide the majority of these groups' budgets," Perez said. "We're not a bank."

COPS and Metro Alliance, meanwhile, already won Mayor Phil Hardberger's support for more money.

"I'm for it because it goes to the center of my economic development program," which turns on creating a better-trained work force in San Antonio, Hardberger said.

He wasn't deterred by the funding formula, saying: "It would not be a deal-breaker because they do good work."

Councilman Roland Gutierrez also supports the increased funding, but he said he wants Project Quest officials to demonstrate that the city's funding isn't "mired in administrative expenses."

Councilman Kevin Wolff, on the other hand, comes down against both granting $3 million and suspending the funding formula for Project Quest.

"We have 70-some-odd delegate agencies, and the vast majority receive less than 25 percent of their funding from the city," Wolff said. "(Project Quest) is a great program. I just think they need to work a little harder to support themselves."

COPS and Metro Alliance officials have tried to persuade council members to drop Project Quest's status as a delegate agency under the Department of Community Initiatives' control. That would free it from the funding restriction.

Instead, they argue it should be considered an economic development agency capable of attracting companies to San Antonio.

In the meantime, Project Quest Executive Director Mary Peña said the agency met this year's requirement of securing 35 percent of its operating budget from sources beyond city government.

The organization so far has commitments for $1 million from foundations and other government entities for 2006, according to Peña. But matching a city allocation of $3 million next year with outside funds "would be very difficult," she said.

Project Quest received $1.5 million from the city, so by my math they secured a little over $750,000 of outside funds for their operating budget this year. They've already reached $1 million for 2006. Project Quest provides crucial services for the city. It's a proven program that gives people the necessary skills to find decent, fulfilling work, and San Antonio has an interest in investing in a program like this. But I do have my reservations about removing these restrictions.

The City of San Antonio should play an integral role in funding Project Quest, but the city shouldn't be funding Project Quest this heavily. It's interesting to see the way that Project Quest has framed the issue. Sure we've raised $1 million, but there's no way that we're going to be able to match the city dollar for dollar if they give us the $3 million that we've (and COPS/Metro Allicance) asked for if you continue with the present restrictions. At first glance I'd probably look at the problem and say, well you raised $1 mil so you get $1 mil.

Here's the problem, SA has a projected surplus of $2 million for fiscal year(FY) 2006. The increase in Project Quest's funding wipes out the surplus by itself. And that's before City Council starts taking a look at getting a handle on our infrastructure problem, like they are here. Government, especially city government, cannot be everything to everyone. San Antonio already has a projected $32 million deficit for FY 2007, and that's before Councilman Wolff's suggestion of adding $5 million to street maintenance in '06 with $5 million increases each year for the following three years.

Public-private partnerships are great, but the public can't just be a funder. If I were on council, I'd vote no on the $3 million allocation and keep the 2006 budget restriction at 65%. This puts the city's allocation at somehwere around $2 million. And I'd remind Project Quest about the upcoming 2007 deficit.