Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dallas Mayor and Budget

Big issue in Dallas lately has been the budget for the next fiscal year. Since the end of 2008, Dallas has had to trim over $300 million from a roughly $2.2 billion budget. Slashed the hardest were the typical "non-essential" services of parks, libraries, arts and street maintenance (planning departments also don't fare well in these situations). This year's proposed budget would cut another $130 million. For libraries, the cuts were so severe, they would be open only 44 hours a week and would have no money to purchase new materials. Imagine a library not having a single new book for an entire year.

Some on the city council wanted to raise the tax rate to find new revenue for the parks and libraries as well as street maintenance.

There are those who will say you can trim the waste of government efficiency, but that is small potatoes. Somehow, the general public has been able to paint all government as inefficient. Could there be savings? Yes, I am certain. Would it be this big windfall? Likely not. Contrary to what proponents of down-sizing and privatization say, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Certain things can be handled by the private sector, some can not. Would you like the police or fire departments to charge for their services? Also, finding inefficiencies aren't so easy either. Is centralization the best option? For some things yes. Transit agencies administer best when they are clustered. Fire Departments do not. Finding a balance is key. Water departments have been privatized recently. The public now pays quite a bit more because the private sector wants a profit, not a cost coverage.

Back to Dallas. The mayor is a Republican contemplating a senate run. Opponents would trounce him if he raised taxes. He has been fighting it. Here's a quote form an op-ed piece he wrote for the Dallas Morning News. "Families are dealing with reduced income, lack of jobs and uncertainty about the future. They are forced to tighten their belts. The last thing they need is City Hall demanding more money. We must tighten our belts, too."

Nevermind that townhall meetings consistently played the same message of a small tax increase is okay. The mayor counters that by saying those against haven't had time to come to these things. The council members opposed to a tax increase are all in the wealthier part of town. More than the working mom, they do have the ability to go to these things. If you choose not to participate, then that is your fault. If more people participated in government, I am convinced there would be these problems across the country.

He also says, "...the tax-hike supporters took a different approach. They never bothered to find cuts or savings to try to balance the budget. Their default position to fund add-ons? More of your money. They suggested raising no new savings or revenue to avoid raising taxes."

That isn't true either. They budget has been slashed vigorously the last two years. And I would hardly call parks, libraries and streets add-ons. This is why I dislike the mayor. That is a bold-faced lie. There is no way he doesn't know that is untrue.

Finally, I'd like to point out the hypocrisy here. When he first took office in 2007, he virulently defended a toll road in the floodway. I was opposed and helped in the campaign to defeat it. We lost in a close election. That road's cost? Over $2 billion. He also worked to pass a convention center hotel last year, completely city-owned. The cost? Near $600 billion (the previous most-expensive CCH was $289 million). So, on the one hand, we have a mayor who says we must tighten our belt and cut city services But on the other, we have a mayor who defends expensive civic projects, that also happen to benefit his donors. Four of the top five donors to the mayor were somehow connected to the convention center hotel now under construction. He hasn't rescinded is position on the toll road, so that leads me to believe that he isn't so much concerned about Dallas as he is a campaign run. Not everything is as black and white as the mayor would have you believe.

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