The City of San Antonio is in the final week of budget deliberations for its 2012 budget of over $2.2 billion. This coming year's budget exhibits much of the fiscal control that City Manager Sheryl Sculley has brought to the city, providing San Antonio with a AAA bond rating by all three rating agencies. While maintaining those constraints, the city's budget continues to help move forward in helping achieve the city's SA2020 goals, it does so without any property tax increase and modest fee increases for waste management and other Enterprise services. But for all the changes expected in the 2012 budget, one change that amounts to .014% of the overall budget is getting the largest public attention – the extension of domestic partnership benefits for opposite- and same-sex couples. Extending those benefits to city employees has brought to the forefront the divisions people still have over LGBT rights within the 7th largest city in the nation.When Manager Sculley introduced the budget to council most expected the flack to be around arts funding after the stir caused by recent performances of “Corpus Christ,” the controversial play depicting a gay Jesus Christ. After all, arts funding has always been controversial in San Antonio, a city that continues to foster a thriving arts community juxtaposed against a conservative religious community. Usually the organization taking the brunt of fighting is The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, a non-profit organization focused on civil rights. After a battle that started in 1997 that led to the Center's request being defunded and reinstated after a favorable ruling in a lawsuit, the group seems to be the perennial lightening bolt of the conservative community.
However, the battle seems to have shifted from the arts funding to what seems to be a more threatening issue for the conservative community. Led by City Hall gadfly Jack Finger and local pastor Gerald Ripley, a concerted effort is being waged to convince council members to pull the funding of domestic partnership benefits for city employees. While the district budget hearings didn't result in too many comments either for or against extending the benefits, a citywide hearing on had over 100 people registered to speak both for and against offering the benefits.
The estimated cost of extending the benefits amounts to around a $300,000 increase in the city's self-insurance funding and requires multiple documents to prove a couple is in a committed domestic partnership. The city feels that it is important to extend the benefits to not only provide parity for city employees but to also remain a competitive employer in a job market where many companies and cities already offer such benefits, including several major Texas cities.
Both sides have provided opinion pieces on the issue with Richard Farias, a local activist and board member of the newly forming Pride Center, focusing on the workforce parity and economic competitiveness aspects of the offering and Mary Ann Parks, director of Project Rachel, opposing the benefits primarily on religious grounds.
Citizens are being encouraged to contact their council members directly to provide input on their views. Citizens will also be offered a final opportunity to speak on the matter during the regular Wednesday night Citizens To Be Heard session at 6 p.m. in Council Chambers. Registration for speaking can be made online at the City Clerk's website at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning.