Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mayoral Candidates Talk Money

Last week the South Asian Chamber of Commerce hosted an event for four candidates for mayor. (I was not invited, a snub that is common.) The Chronicle's political blog reports that former city attorney Gene Locke had this to say when asked why citizens should donate to mayoral campaigns:
The reality is that to play and influence the outcome you must be eligible to be on the team and unfortunately or fortunately, whatever the deal is, the ability to make a campaign contribution at least gets you suited up for the team.

Doesn't mean that you're going to be on the first team or that you are going to win, but at least you are a player in the process. Now to those of us who hate to give money, that sounds like a bad thing, but let's understand that everybody who has a vested interest in the outcome of government decisions, they are participating -- and some of the decisions that they want government to undertake are not decisions in your best interest. So it's in your self-interest to participate...

This may be politics as usual, but it is nothing more than influence peddling. Locke is surprisingly candid--if you want the government to make decisions that are in your best interest, you should be prepared to pay for it. Such short-term thinking is ultimately in nobody's best interest, as it turns city government into a battle of competing groups seeking to influence government policy. You may win today's battle, but lose tomorrow's. And slowly, over time, the rights of all individuals are gradually eroded.

If government were limited to its proper purpose--the protection of individual right--this would not be possible. Government would not have the power to make decisions that benefit one group at the expense of another. Government would not have the power to dispense favors to political allies.

Roy Morales argued that "there will be plenty of ways to reduce the city budget, opening the way to property tax cuts." While I agree with Mr. Morales, the Chronicle did not report any specifics and his web site is still in development. Mr. Morales was the only candidate who even hinted at reducing city spending.

Annise Parker said that "there is no room for wholesale budget cuts because most of the budget pays for public safety-related programs, but that 'strategic' money-saving efforts still can be made." Parker is simply wrong. In My Virtual Platform: Taxes, I identified numerous ways to reduce the budget:
  • More than $60 million can be cut from the city budget by eliminating building inspections and similar functions. Building codes, regulations controlling occupancy of residential and commercial buildings, and similar ordinances violate the rights of individuals to use their property as they choose. Such functions are not proper for government and they should be eliminated.
  • Nearly $5 million can be cut from the city budget by eliminating sign administration. Ordinances regulating and controlling billboards and signs violate the rights of individuals to use their property as they choose. Such functions are not proper for government and they should be eliminated.
  • Nearly $10 million can be cut from the city budget by eliminating the Mobility Response Team. Clearing roadways is not a proper function of government. This particular program takes money from some Houstonians to use for the benefit of other Houstonians. This program should be eliminated.
  • Nearly $9 million can be cut from the city budget by eliminating the Planning and Development Department. Planning and development are not government functions and should be left to the discretion of private individuals.
The reason that Parker sees no room to trim the budget is because she regards the city's current activities as legitimate and proper. She has no problem violating individual rights by imposing restrictions on development and building. She does not hesitate to impose her values on the entire community by advocating "quality of life" issues. Reducing government spending is not on her radar, because she does not want to reduce the size and scope of government.

Peter Brown said that "the way out of the fiscal morass is to bring business to Houston, thereby expanding the value of property the city taxes." Brown also sees no reason to cut city spending--he is a big government advocate, just like Parker. His solution is to find more people to slave away fueling the city's coffers.

The solution to the city's financial issues is really quite simple--cut spending. Privatize those services that are not proper to government--trash collection, water, wastewater, parks, libraries, etc. Repeal all laws that violate individual rights--building codes, sign restrictions, land-use regulations, and controls on businesses. Limit government to its proper functions and the city's financial needs drop significantly. Pay off the city's debt and further savings can be realized.

Politicians like to talk about making tough decisions. They will whine about budget constraints and their inability to provide an endless stream of political favors. Their only "tough" choice is deciding which groups and individuals to stroke for more political support. Having rejected proper political principles, the mayoral candidates can only fly by the seat of their pants, dealing with each concrete as expediency demands.

The fact is, in city government there are very few (if any) truly tough choices. If I were mayor, the tough choices would be which parks to sell first, how to privatize the water and wastewater systems, and how to cut the budget to the bone. I would end political favoritism because government should not be in the business of dispensing favors. It should be protecting individual rights, and that doesn't cost nearly as much money as mayoral candidates would have us believe.

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